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It is urban, civic space which allows for political views to clash, for civil society to evolve, for culture to flourish. Civic space is more than just public, it enables and instructs an active participation in the political, social and cultural life of a city.
The Russian Revolution brought with it a political emphasis on the masses and wide-spread redistribution of property that opened a range of new spaces to the public. Mass culture became an important political tool, with music, poetry, graphic art and of course, architecture, seen as ways of communicating and spreading the new ideology. New civic spaces were also created as mass gatherings took the form of demonstrations or celebrations and filled the streets and squares.
A century on, and civic space in Russian cities is hard to identify or even to define. Seventy years of Soviet rule altered the concepts of personal freedom and civil responsibility; modern Russia is now redefining these in turn. Moscow boasts a wealth of quality public spaces, but a consumerist boom, which began after perestroyka and continues to this day, has placed these spaces in a limbo between commercial and state ownership. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the political awakening of 2012, the Moscow government has launched an extensive public works programme that includes an overhaul of the boulevards, shopping streets, city squares and parks. Both championed and criticised by independent voices, these programmes are transforming Moscow’s public realm.
But what are they transforming into? Who will take on the task of commissioning civic buildings and shaping civic space to accompany it? What will become of the grand-scale city squares of Moscow?
Our panel of architects and urban thinkers will discuss the meaning of ‘civic space’, exploring how it has changed from post-revolutionary Moscow to the present day and the wider relevance this has to other European cities. They will explore what role virtual networks, public art, social and cultural movements play in the creation of contemporary civic space and whether Britain’s transition through welfare statehood means urban treasures are now gaining civic importance.