Zaryadye Park, the first new park in the Russian capital for 50 years, finally opened to the general public today, following the opening ceremony on Saturday attended by President Vladimir Putin and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
Carrying a hefty price tage of 14b rubles ($245m), the park features artificial micro-climate areas representing Russia’s steppes, tundra, wetlands and forests, mimicking the country’s sprawling natural landscape. It also contains a philharmonic concert hall hidden under a hill and an ice labyrinth, as well as tropical plants that will be controlled by special infrared lanterns. The park’s theme of “wild urbanism” was conceived by New York based architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, best known for their work on New York City’s highline, an elevated park on a disused section of the central railroad. The idea of “wild urbanism”, according to Diller Scofidio + Renfro's proposal, is “an opportunity to leave the city, and at the same time be closer to it”.
Located around 200 metres east of the Kremlin along the Moscow River, the park sits on the former site of the Rossiya Hotel, at one point the biggest hotel in the world boasting over 3,000 rooms. After being described by the former mayor’s deputy as “a dull, faceless box made of steel and concrete”, the hotel was demolished as part of Mayor Yury Luzhkov’s wider plans to rid Moscow of its Soviet eyesores.
After the initial plans to turn the site into a retail complex fell through due to economic limitations, the decision to turn the $1b central scrapyard into a public park was a welcome surprise. Speaking at the opening of the park on the weekend, Moscow culture department chief Alexander Kibovsky revealed he was “shocked” when Sobyanin first floated the idea of a park, allegedly first proposed by President Putin. “I don’t know another metropolis where they would disregard commercial value and use the territory as a public space… It’s fantastic.”
Despite the park’s geobotanical wonders, it has received wide criticism for its steep price tag. Initially budgeted at 5b rubles ($87m), the project has cost almost three times this amount, that some consider to be a frivolous misuse of government expenditure given the financial climate.
Furthermore, the very idea of “wilderness” in Russia is a particularly loaded term, and has brought the park’s identity and purpose into question. During the Brezhnev years, “wild” was a term hurled at those who defected from state-sponsored collective vacations for more individual actives such as camping, fishing and hunting. While the decision to replace the Hotel Rossiya with a park marks a dramatic departure from Soviet nostalgia, the wilderness of Zaryadye remains somewhat tamed and controlled, and geographically within reach of the Kremlin.
Now open to the public at all times, the park’s inauguration on the weekend was part of a series of events commemorating Moscow’s 870th anniversary.