Moscow Kids Deserve a Safe Place to Play

You've definitely heard it. You're sitting in your apartment on a quiet afternoon, reading a book or warming up with a cup of hot chocolate when all of a sudden -- boom! A loud explosion catapults you out of your seat, after which your next instinct is to hit the floor.

Must be a mafia shootout, you think. After all, this is Moscow.

But when you get up the courage to go to your window, you see not a throng of leather-jacketed thugs with firearms, but ... kids. Lots of them, and they're young. They dance around the middle of the courtyard, bouncing back and forth as the smoke clears. On an otherwise boring afternoon, they're having a great time with the firecrackers they've bought down the street at the Produkty store.

Moscow is supposedly a wonderful place for kids -- so the legend goes. For one thing, Russians are notoriously doting and patient with little ones, for whom they clearly have a huge soft spot. There is no such thing as standing in line when you have a child. They devote themselves to their children in admirable ways.

But Moscow, once the kids' paradise, does not look like the kind of place that dotes on its children anymore.

How can it be when young children can buy firecrackers off the street, and without knowing how to use them, can set them off in public areas where it would take very little to seriously injure themselves and other children?

Moscow is a city where children, with little else to do after school, dive into overflowing dumpsters and retrieve filthy goodies to play with or throw at each other. When they can find matches, they set the piles of trash on fire, then stand close by and watch.

This is a city, in short, whose children have been forgotten. Ironically, Moscow is one of the "greenest" metropolises in the world, with lots of parks. But there are very few places for kids to actually play. Most of the courtyard "playgrounds" have long since disintegrated into nothing more than trash mounds.

The little square outside my building, for example, consists of only a few pieces of scrap metal -- the remains of playground equipment, their rusted rough edges projecting perilously in the air. Not for anything would I send my child out there to play. No one really does, and actually the place has been taken over by the neighborhood dogs.

Instead, the kids play near the dumpsters, and when they get tired of that they opt for hide and seek between parked cars. They run out into the road as unsuspecting cars whiz by.

My neighborhood, and so many others like mine, is a mother's nightmare. The conscientious parents try to keep their kids at home -- but how long can a child stand a cramped apartment? They have to get out -- but into a wasteland?

Many have few other options. Their parents don't have the money to pay for piano, swimming, or ballroom dancing lessons. The fees for these activities inflate along with everything else, and some kids are left wanting.

Even for the parents who do have the money to buy their kids all these things, the playground is still a problem. Kids, after all, need the freedom to be outside.

Moscow is plagued with troubles -- everyone knows that. But its children should come first.