Five years ago, to take a walk along the embankment of the Moscow river, south-west of the Kremlin, would have been a miserable affair – through the depressing, weed-strewn expanse of Gorky Park, navigating pot-holed roads and dodging stray dogs.
Now, it is a very different experience. The waterfront has been redeveloped and the park totally remodelled – it is now packed with families strolling in the summer sunshine or skating on its frozen paths, depending on the time of year. Along the way, all manner of eateries and coffee shops cater to newly acquired tastes; people on bikes speed past in the cycle lanes.
Unlike the jarring, ruthless, civilisational changes of the 1990s, the changes to Moscow over the past five years were almost imperceptible on a month-to-month basis. But taken cumulatively, they have resulted in the emergence of a very different city; one that is eminently more liveable.
“What we have seen in the past few years is a change of tone, of the substance of the city,” said Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper, who founded the Moscow lifestyle magazine Afisha in 1999 and then the Strelka institute in central Moscow, which was set up in 2010 to be the vanguard of urban thinking in the Russian capital. “Suddenly Moscow is a city where taking a nice walk on a Sunday afternoon is a normal thing to do and something pleasurable.” […]