MOSCOW — During the Cold War, the movie thriller "Gorky Park" gave the real park a scary reputation. Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the park suffered from two decades of decay.
Fast forward to today, and the largest downtown park in Europe’s largest city has a totally new look.
Irina Datsiuk now comes to the park to play beach volley ball, in the heart of Moscow. Dressed in a bright bikini, Irina talks to VOA, “I really like that you can play sports and then go relax, and visit the little shops. They made everything so comfortable.”
The new Gorky Park offers yoga lessons, tango lessons, salsa lessons, an open air movie theater, and space to play African drums outdoors by the Moscow River.
Stefano moved from Italy to here in June to work as a pizza chef. Unable to speak Russian, he says in Italian that Moscow is a beautiful city and the customers are happy to find his pizzas are made with Italian ingredients.
During the next five years, Moscow is spending $100 million a year to rebuild its parks. The goal is to inject some green into the gray cityscape, and to take the rough edges off a city often called "kameni gorod" or stone city.
Assistants put the finishing touches on artwork project in Russia's Gorky Park, June 26, 2012.
Gorky Park director Olga Zakharova says before the total remake started 18 months ago, only 2,000 people a day ventured into the 120-hectare park. She says, “This year, we have from 40,000 people on weekdays, and from 100,000 on the weekends.”
“Gorky Park has a huge amount of programs,” she answers when asked if there are now traffic jams near the park seven days a week. “We do not miss any holidays. For us, Gorky Park is a place where we spend a great deal of time. And we want to make it so that everyone comes here and feels happy. Like every day is a holiday.”
Opening in a few months is a modern art center, designed by Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect. Guaranteed to provide more buzz, and more visitors, the project is bankrolled by Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire.
And all this may good politics too. Young people who are outdoors, having fun, may have less interest in political protest.