Parks, as big and Russian as they come

Field of Mars

Марсово поле (Marsovo pole, or the Field of Mars) with Спас на Крови (Savior on the Blood) in the background.

The Russians know how to do a good park.  Their winning formula is simple: Bold, well-sculpted statues, bombastic God-save-the-tsar or Long-live-the-party rhetoric on every plaque, and incredibly huge open spaces.  We’re talking open space so big it’ll bend your camera lens.  So big you want to yell and wait for an echo.  So big it would make the Great Plains look like a shoe-box diorama (okay, maybe I got carried away here, but you get the idea).

Here, giant parks are only natural; Russia is a big place, after all.  The biggest, in fact.  Not only that, but the tsars always had a thing for extravagant splendor and were able to indulge their whims to unheard-of extremes, unencumbered by funding or manpower thanks to serfdom and a weak noble class.

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in St. Petersburg, Peter the Great’s “Window on Europe.”  He wanted something impressive, and with limitless expanses of open swampland and hundreds of thousands of poor sops conscripted to do the grunt work (it is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 people died just during the initial construction). The staggering results can be witnessed at the Summer Gardens, Mikhaylovsky Gardens, Tavricheskiy Gardens and the Field of Mars, to name a few Petersburg parks.

When the Soviets came to power, they had a similar agenda for public building projects: shock and awe. They drew on a patriotic naming scheme (Park of Victory, etc.) rather than religious imagery, but the scale was just as large and the monuments just as forceful.

It beats the crap out of Peace Park back in Madison, Wisc.

The eternal flame at the Soldiers of the Revolution memorial. Mothers, keep an eye on your kids.

The eternal flame at the Soldiers of the Revolution memorial. Mothers, keep an eye on your kids.

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4 Responses to “Parks, as big and Russian as they come”

  1. Wow, these parks sound and look incredible! I’ve got to think that huge open green spaces have a positive effect on the Russian psyche. We’re lagging behind in the U.S. as the American “green space” movement has just gotten started. (For example, a few years ago in Laguna Beach, California–to name one–that community banded together to fight Mansionization and preserve some of the natural environment from development. They hired a lobbyist to run a successful ad campaign to defeat the developer-friendly city council and alert the citizens to the fact that green space was disappearing.) The Russian government has preserved this natural resource of land for the Russian people. It’s on the scale of our national parks, but in Russia it’s for the city. Impressive!

  2. Yeah, we’ve got some amazing national parkland in the U.S., but, unfortunately, green space usually takes a back seat to real estate whenever the two come in contact.
    On the flip side here in Russia, there’s virtually no recycling. And with people drinking on the street, discarded bottles and cigarettes can often mar the green space.

  3. Yes, that pesky litter does mar green space! Russia should take a lesson from a PR firm here in the U.S. which was hired to solve the problem of littering in Texas. They did their research and saw that the main culprit was the redneck (their term not mine) riding in the back of a pickup truck–gun on his lap–who tossed his beer cans out the back. They thought, What would reach this guy? What does he value? The answer: his freedom, his autonomy, his land, his pride. So they came up with the slogan “Don’t mess with Texas” and the most successful anti-litter campaign EVER was born. (This is a true story; I attended a PR conference in Tucson and heard one of the VPs give a talk.) So the question is: What does the Russian walking on the street who tosses down a bottle value?

  4. I, too, was a student once in St. Petersburg and spent an incredible year there. I remember once in class our teacher asked us what our favorite place was in St. Pete. I said mine was Park Pobedy. I really do love that place. My teacher looked at me strangely and said I was silly for saying a park could be my favorite place in such a culturally rich city!

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