Optimism is a channel of change

Moscow is a city of dichotomies. It is also a place on the brink of change, under transformation by a passionate group of people quietly willing and actively pulling their city towards a more livable and sustainable stride.

Over the coming months we will be working with an amazing organization called ‘White City Project’, to understand how people are using, moving, behaving and visioning the Volkhonka area of Moscow’s city center, also known as the ‘Museum Quarter’. Over time, our analysis will lead us to prototype ideas that we hope will unfold delightful public space experiences for everyone to test and improve on. Together, with White City, we aspire to create a framework for a replicable process for how other city districts can use a people first approach to development and regeneration.

White City Project receiving collected data from students

‘White City Project’ is an extraordinary contemporary example of a young and fresh organization eager to shift Moscow towards a city for people. In addition to their wish for smart and seamless public spaces, surrounding beauty, ease and choice of movement, they are pushing to build cultural intelligence of the city by inviting keen citizens to participate in all levels of change.

On our last visit, we spent a week passing on the Gehl skills to an energetic group of students, counting pedestrians, looking at the way that people behave in areas, understanding monster junctions, absorbing the soul of Moscow, interviewing celebrated Moscovites and discussing the work achieved with a big bang closing event. We were blown away by the commitment to the work shown by the students. For them one task was never enough, ten tasks were better, rare and extraordinary. Through this drive, change is sure to come to the city in a variety of forms.

Gehl Architects working with students on public life survey

Where will this ball of energy take the streets and spaces of Moscow? As we passed from one interview to another, we were left wondering how the new generation will ensure that the soul of Moscow is inserted into the physicality of the city. How will the new generation balance their heritage and their wish for a more livable city, together with the seeming need to rapidly grow the city in order to meet the expanding population?

From previous projects, we’ve learnt that cities need to think big (have a clear and big vision), start small (prototype the change) and scale fast (prototype in a faster and faster way). Changing Moscow is an especially gigantic task which will require many small steps, collective action, over a long period of time. Starting small is exemplified with Gorky Park, a hugely popular, exciting public space which contextualizes, stylizes and understands what the Moscovite user is wishing for in terms of public space.

Gorky park ping pong tables

As the editor in chief of ‘The Village’ internet newspaper told us, up to two years ago, no one in Moscow understood what public space was. Change is fire paced in Moscow. As we sat on our final day watching our colleague Lin give a presentation in Gorky Park, we realize that her presentation was being broadcast on the ‘Optimistic Channel’. Who would have thought that optimism could be a channel?  Is this the type of tool that Moscovites can learn from, tap into and push for change with? If there is a place and a people that can find a million small ways to gear the city into a new stride, it is Moscow and the Moscovites. More to come from ‘White City Project’…

Lin Skaufel’s presentation broadcast live via ‘Optimistic Channel’

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