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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What Moscow Really Needs: Landscaping

What catches the eye of most of Moscow's foreigners on their occasional forays to the outside world? Is it the hustle and bustle of the busy cities? Is it the bright lights? Is it the vast array of shops with their -- gasp -- single digit prices?


Probably it is all of these things. But for me the crucial thing has been first and foremost the flowers and grass. That's right. Even more than stocked store shelves and incredible bargains, what really attracts me to a Western city is the landscaping -- the neat, orderly blades of grass, the inviting parks, the cheerful flowerbeds.


A fellow traveler on my first trip here in the early 1980s took one look at this city and loudly pronounced that he would make his fortune in Russia in landscaping. He said this mostly because to get to the institute where we were studying Russian, we had to bushwack through tall grass, along a rocky and uneven path, over jagged rusty pipes and through the broken interstices of a rusted metal fence.


We all know the grim vista I am talking about: It is everywhere in this city, even downtown. Dusty footworn paths crisscrossing expanses of unruly woods, inexplicable metal bars protruding perilously where thousands of feet tramp daily, broken glass, strewn trash, abandoned concrete slabs and the occasional dumpster on fire. Sound like your neighborhood?


By contrast, Geneva, where I lived briefly before moving here, takes landscaping to a perfectionist extreme. Every blade of grass is evenly mowed, flowerbeds are dug up and replanted seasonally and the center of town features a famous flower clock, which boasts colorful flora even in the dead of Geneva's chilly, damp winter.


Sure, there is something to be said for Moscow's natural look. It is wonderful to wander through untampered woods and imagine that you are deep in the wilderness when really you are only at Izmailovsky Park. It is nice to see greenery in a park that has been left alone, rather than coiffed just to please the eye. It is even kind of charming to see that the back side of the Kremlin, with its tall grass and steep unkempt riverside slope, has been left to its own devices.


But let's face it -- every once in a while, don't you find yourself yearning for a lawn? Even if it is not your own, even if you have to share it with a few hundred other people in your apartment building?


It is no accident that I learned the Russian word for "lawn" only after studying the language for over 10 years. Gazon only came into play when new Russians started building themselves their villas in the country and caring for the little parcels of land that go with them.


There are a few lawns in Moscow -- like at embassies or those sturdy brick apartment complexes for the nomenklatura. My building, on the other hand, has been mired in a sea of mud, garbage and weeds from the day it opened five years ago. There is a shortage of parking spots, so for a while the strip of land right outside the building was a muddy parking lot. Then, when a fence went up to prevent that, people started parking their cars on a patch of inner courtyard that houses a play area for children. Now that playground -- a rather sorry collection of rusty scrap metal to begin with, is a mud heap.


Moscow, for many reasons, will never be Geneva. But I would still love to see just one nice green lawn.