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Gorky Park Renewal Reflects Revival Of Moscow's Spirit

Muscovites relax in a somewhat grubby-looking Gorky Park in 2010, before the popular amenity began undergoing an extensive overhaul in March last year.

Muscovites relax in a somewhat grubby-looking Gorky Park in 2010, before the popular amenity began undergoing an extensive overhaul in March last year.

Of all Russia's communist-era landmarks, arguably none carries more resonance than Gorky Park.

After this imposing "park of culture and leisure" was opened amid much fanfare in 1928, it quickly became synonymous with Soviet life, and was even regularly referenced in the West by such diverse cultural figures as U.S. crime writer Martin Cruz Smith and German rock band Scorpions.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, Konstantin Melnikov's constructivist masterpiece suffered from years of neglect.

Amusement rides that had been built to entertain the denizens of Moscow's worker's paradise quickly became old and decrepit, while the park's thoroughfares were soon awash with tawdry stands and stalls.

By the turn of this century, the popular amenity had become a tad insalubrious, often strewn with rubbish and frequented by rowdy, drunken ex-servicemen celebrating various military anniversaries.

Now, however, as Miriam Elder reports in "The Guardian," Gorky Park is enjoying something of a resurgence.

When Sergei Kapkov was appointed director of the 300-acre facility in March last year, he quickly got rid of the outdated carnival rides and cheap stalls while also creating new amenities such as a petanque cafe, an open-air cinema, and a huge 15,000 square-meter ice rink.

Today, with free Wi-Fi, a host of public art projects, and other attractions, the park has become a popular location for Moscow's hip and burgeoning middle class.

Interestingly, Gorky Park's revival comes just as Moscow has been experiencing an upsurge in popular protests and social activism on a scale that has not been seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In an interview with Elder, Kapkov seemed to indicate that this was no coincidence:

"Everyone knows that I went to the protest at Bolotnaya Square," Kapkov said, referring to one of the big protests against Vladimir Putin's return to power that rocked the city earlier this year. "All Muscovites have demands – people call them the creative class, oppositionists; I call them new city professionals. These people work in various places, have a stable wage, have travelled a lot and they understand what they want from the city. We're trying to fulfil their demands."

Ostensibly, in an effort to provide an outlet for Muscovites' new social consciousness, the city authorities have even announced that they will be opening "speakers' corners" similar to the famous open-air public-speaking area in London's Hyde Park.

Some critics, however, see this plan as an attempt to dilute and undermine Moscow's nascent culture of popular protest.

Given that Hyde Park's Speakers' Corner is now most commonly associated with cranks and oddballs, one fears that they may have a point.

PHOTO GALLERY: Moscow's iconic Gorky Park

-- Coilin O'Connor

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