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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When Sergei Kapkov was appointed director of the 300-acre facility in March last year, he quickly got rid of the outdated carnival rides and cheap stalls while also creating new amenities such as a petanque cafe, an open-air cinema, and a huge 15,000 square-meter ice rink.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
  • An aerial view of Gorky Park in 1979. For decades, the 300-acre park has provided Muscovites with a swath of tranquil greenery in the heart of the Russian capital. 
  • The park was a major center of "leisure and culture" during the Soviet era. 
  • Muscovites attend an exhibition of military equipment seized during World War II in 1946. 
  • A special reading area in the park in 1955
  • Gorky Park was also home to many carnival rides for the amusement of socialist workers.
  • These rides remained for decades after the fall of communism.
  • Although the park and its attractions remained popular with Muscovites, they were starting to suffer from neglect by the turn of this century. 
  • A number of cheap stalls and cafes were also blamed for lowering the tone of the park. 
  • The park's reputation was not helped by the fact that it became the focal point of celebrations for ex-servicemen celebrating various military anniversaries. 


  • Since it came under new management last year, however, the park has enjoyed something of a resurgence and has become popular with many of the city's affluent young hipsters. 
  • It is also being used as a venue for various creative performances and innovative art installations, such as this mural made completely out of coffee beans. 
  • A dance performance in Gorky Park earlier this year

-- Coilin O'Connor
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Comments
     
by: Olga from: Washington DC
September 13, 2012 16:18
Correction on the third paragraph: the constuctivist architect's name was Konstantin Melnikov, not Melkinov.

In Response

by: Moderator
September 13, 2012 16:30
This typo has been corrected, thank you.

by: trevorzaichik from: London
September 13, 2012 17:07
I lived on the other side of the river from the park from 96-99 and it was great!!! The "cheap stalls" were lovely and the ice skating was basic (there was plenty of ice! What more do you need?) but cheap and good. "Petanque Cafe"? Sounds like bloody Shoreditch to me.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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