Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Moscow, which focuses on the central districts of Moscow City was made public on July 16. This ‘special report #3? aims to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Moscow and other cities.

Towards a reinvigorated Moscow

Moscow is poised for a bright future, brimming with ideas and opportunities One of these ideas is to transform the traffic-filled waterfront into a green river park. The Russian capital is ready for change – the wish for a more liveable city is sprouting from all levels of society, according to the field team from Gehl Architects.

‘Most human beings feel good when they are close to water. It is like taking a break from your everyday life. It makes you relax, and gives you a sense of calmness’.

According to Gehl Architects’ Project Manager, Solvejg Reigstad, the rivers and canals in Moscow hold great recreational potential.

Unfortunately most of the waterfront near the city center is currently surrounded by heavy traffic. 93 percent of the space is allocated to cars, creating a barrier between the city and the river. The roaring traffic makes it a noisy place that discourages people from lingering and promenading.

But with the right effort, the long stretch of riverbank could be turned into a beautiful river park – an attractive green area with bike paths, generous sidewalks and floating platforms where people could see and touch the water.

This is one of many ideas for the future outlined in the report ‘Moscow – Towards a great city for people’ which Gehl Architects have recently presented for Moscow Mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, and his team.

It is difficult to reach the water


A green vision

“It would make the city a lot more attractive – for Moscovites as well as for tourists. A lot of people see Moscow as a tough city – an efficient metropolis fit for working but with little room for relaxing, raising children, or even growing old. The river park could create appealing conditions for leisure and family life and generate a lot of optimism”, explains Partner at Gehl Architects Henriette Vamberg. In collaboration with Jan Gehl, Solvejg Reigsted and other team members, she is responsible for the ‘Public Space Public Life’ study that Gehl Architects have recently conducted in the city.

Prechistenskaya today

A sketch for a new Moscow riverfront
A sketch for a new Moscow riverfront

A city for people

According to the team at Gehl, Moscow is currently undergoing a sweeping transformation in order to become more liveable and sustainable. A good example is Gorky Park which used to be a nearly forgotten amusement park. Today it contains cafés, boat rental areas, recreational gardens, and outdoor facilities for theater, lectures or film. The park has become extremely popular with thousands of daily users.

Another example is the new bike policy. The transport department is currently working on finding ways to ensure better access to the city by bike and to connect the green park areas in the outskirts of the city with a bike sharing system.


A break with the past

Alexey Mityaev, who works as an advisor for the deputy mayor of Moscow, Maxim Liksutov, hopes Moscow will become a city with a friendlier cityscape.

‘Now we have a list of streets in the city center that need improvement – streets where we are going to widen the pavements, reduce the number of parked cars – and of course provide pedestrians with places to sit, talk and observe’.

This year one of the central streets, Bolshaya Dmitrovka, has been redesigned in that spirit, he adds.

‘The street has always been full of cars and parking spaces, leaving very little room for pedestrians. Now it is a quiet street with almost no parking, wide pavements, and benches where people can rest. This is only the beginning of our work on public spaces. For the last 20 years Moscow has been perceived as city designed for cars, but nowadays we are going to put that behind us’.

Vorovskogo Square today

A sketch for a new Vorovskogo Square

A new direction

Moscow is ready for change Solvejg Reigstad elaborates.

‘I sense it on several different fronts, both from politicians, grassroot movements, and regular citizens. There are many people who wish for a city with more room for life to unfold, and a lot of passionate people who create initiatives to make this happen. It is an extremely exciting evolution’.

With the presentation of the Moscow report Gehl Architects have made a series of recommendations for the city, where the people focused approach serves as a general baseline for initiatives to come. According to Solvejg Reigstad the Russian capital has quite a few under-utilized assets which can reap more benefits than they do today.

‘Moscow’s city center is a compact city, perfect for walking and cycling, and the wide boulevards make it possible to give adequate space to all modes of transportation. In addition to this, Moscow has great forests and parks close to the city center. By improving the accessibility for pedestrians and bikes it will become easier for people to use and enjoy the green amenities and it will create a more sustainable use of the city’.

‘The city is already a destination for many visitors and tourists and has a great potential for attracting even more visitors and investments’, she adds.

City acupuncture

But is it in fact possible for a city of Moscow’s size to change within a foreseeable number of years?

Henriette Vamberg is positive when it comes to the prospect of transformation in Moscow. Like the human body, the city’s organism can recover through a focused treatment to specific areas. By gradually improving the most vital parts of the city center – such as the waterfront, selected main-streets and parks – and using the same recipe on similarly challenged areas, a gradual improvement can occur – and spread.

‘I think a vision like the new river park can be implemented within a few years. Once there is political endorsement behind a project, things can develop very quickly in Russia’.

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