Moscow's Erratic Shift Towards a Walkable City

Moscow's Mayor has pushed an agenda to beautify the city, create social spaces, and make the city more walkable, but critics see the move towards walkability as more of a forced march.
August 23, 2016, 2pm PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Moscow has embraced new urbanism and all of it's benefits: pedestrian friendly streets, public spaces, and beautiful landscaping creating an inviting public realm. However, critics of the program to transform the city have noted that the makeover is leaving out or ignoring the input of the city's population. Maria Antonova of Foreign Policyreports that the changes to the city's infrastructure have been quick, sweeping and often done without any warning. While detractors of Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin say the $2 billion city beautification project has been undemocratic, the mayor's backers note that the program is European in outcome, "but its realization is more Asian."

“In Paris or New York it takes two years to redevelop one street: they talk to the residents, they do a test segment, and finally do the actual work,” Muratov said. In Sobyanin’s Moscow, changes are sudden and often unpredictable, with residents treated like minor inconveniences in a process that is moving through the city like wildfire.

...Sobyanin is trying to create social spaces — places where people can enjoy themselves in a pleasant and relaxed environment. These are different from public spaces, where citizens can engage in activities that might make authorities uncomfortable.

“A space can be physically comfortable even in any dictatorship,” Muratov said. “Streets are nice in Singapore.”

Antonova reports that the efforts to remake the city have also resulted in a reigning in of street performers and artists, the removal of the city center's popular trolleybuses, and the destruction of retail kiosks. However, protests of the forced urban renewal have been stifled, with Antonova reporting that some 200 applications to hold protests of the trolleybus removal being denied by the city.

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Published on Sunday, August 21, 2016 in Foreign Policy
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