Giving Space Back to People, Moscow Style
A year ago the Moscow based urban design and economic consultancy #StrelkaKB invited us to assist them in drawing up guidelines aimed at transforming the pedestrian experience of the urban realm of Moscow. Our role was first to analyse the provision of street retail three typical zones within the city, the city Centre which dates mostly from the 18th and 19th century, the periphery of the centre or Middle zone which is predominately late 19th and early 20th century and the Outskirts, housing projects or ‘microrayons’ dating from the Stalin era world war.
In general terms Moscow was suffering from a tremendous imbalance of street space in favour of the motor vehicle with inadequate pavement space – a situation exacerbated by competition for that pavement space between pedestrians and pop-up or guerrilla retail in the form of unlicensed kiosks, market stalls, barrows, carts, mats on the floor.
Based on this analysis and on benchmarking from our own experiences of working, for example in London’s West End, a series of recommendations were drawn up for the provision within a structure that would support the overall aims of the Design Guide for the provision of a good quality environment for the citizens of the city.
Requirements within the three zones were quite different from each other. In the Centre, where the majority of residents are relatively wealthy and street space relatively narrow, especially away from the main boulevards, spaces for the location of permanent kiosks and for street markets were identified that balancing the demands of retail for locations on streams of highest footfall with the need for clear pedestrian flows, particularly at traffic junctions and in front of metro stations.
The Outskirts were not planned to accommodate the demands of a consumer economy with state supermarkets and a few small shops being the only provision made at the time of design for a neighbourhoods of 10,000 – 20,000. As a consequence, retail has grown, unplanned and unregulated, taking over the raised ground floor of apartment blocks in the vicinity of metro stations and bus stops, appearing ad hoc in single storey structures on areas of land, of which there is plenty, and generally contributing to an overall degradation of the environment. Retail is essential to a healthy neighbourhood community, it is where people can meet or see each other on a regular basis with relationships forming between the retailer and the customer. However, the economy of the outskirts is not the same as the Centre and recommendations therefore concentrated on how the provision of affordable retail structures, kiosks and market locations that would enhance the experience of the neighbourhood (see http://www.strelka.com/en/magazine/2016/04/12/new-standart)(http://www.strelka.com/en/magazine/2015/12/29/phil-wren-interview)
In June I was invited back to participate in the Moscow Urban Forum (#MUF) (http://wrenarchitecture.com/news/23/Wren-at-Moscow-Urban-Forum) and advise on a further piece of work focussing on parks and recreational areas in the city. Whilst in the city I was able to witness the remarkable progress being made on the transformation of the streets in the Centre, on Tverskaya Street and the Garden Ring by the city council acting upon the recommendations of the #KBStrelka Design Guidelines, published in February. Work on the major streets in the Centre was due to be complete before the winter temperatures prevent external construction and an army of workers had been recruited to lay 100 ha of granite paving. There were bitter complaints from the residents and businesses directly affected by the works with cries of ‘you’ve stolen our summer’. Pavements and streets were ripped up to facilitate the improvements, pedestrian routes were changed on a daily basis and navigating the streets was a real challenge for workers and tourists alike. Contrast this however to the experience of Oxford Street where some 12 years after the delivery of our masterplan, the only significant change has been the new crossing at Oxford Circus and where the balance between vehicles (buses) and pedestrians remains a poor as it was then ( http://wrenarchitecture.com/projects/26/West-End-Masterplan) . Next Spring, when the snows melt, Muscovites will be able to enjoy their city as they have never done before with wide pavements, pedestrianised areas, new squares all accompanied by well organised kiosks and markets no longer under the control of a corrupt mafia.