Bloomberg Businessweek

FROM RUSSIA WITH LATTES

Smart city apps, historically accurate trees, a tourist-friendly subway. While Washington obsesses about sanctions and hacks, Russia is rebranding its capital as a model of urban planning
An installation from the Flower Jam Festival at Revolution Square, one of a series of public art events celebrating the seasons

Moscow

Moscow felt medieval when I first arrived almost 20 years ago, in January 1998, seeking adventure. There were few billboards, advertisements, or shop windows filled with merchandise. The women working at my local producti, or small grocery store, wore shawls, had moles and wens, and weighed out my purchases on an old-fashioned scale. One had an oozing wound on her hand and a stained bandage; I was enough of an American to find this shocking. To buy an apple, I had to stand in three lines. My friend Olga worked at Krisis Genre, one of Moscow’s first bars, and when I walked there at night from Metro Kropotkinskaya, the streets were completely deserted.

What grandeur Moscow had then, what culture, what good bones. In ruin, it was the most beautiful place I’d ever been. I took pictures, dazzled by the monumental scale of the city, the massive boulevards and brutalist architecture, the oceans of marble in the metros, the social realist statues of huge, broad-bosomed female factory workers gazing up toward a utopian future. All of it—even Lenin’s wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya, a black metal giantess outside Metro Chistye Prudy—covered in grit.

The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, which the West celebrated as a triumph, had been devastating for many Muscovites. Teachers and workers in government-owned factories were unpaid for months, and the middle class went hungry. By the late ’90s life had become less dire, but there were two currencies circulating, the second issued to deal with the hyperinflation of the first, and city services had collapsed. The parks were full of garbage and alcoholics, the playgrounds were carpeted with broken glass and smelled of urine, and the lovely old metro stations were encrusted with kiosks. There wasn’t even snow removal. I quickly learned the shuffle-walk locals used to traverse the lakes of ice on the sidewalks.

Today’s Moscow is clean, green, and inviting—in the areas that aren’t

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