Putin suggests a public green space to replace wasteland of Soviet grey

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The Independent Online

Ever since the monstrous Hotel Rossiya was demolished in 2006, nobody has been sure what to do with the huge swath of land on which it stood, just behind the onion domes of St Basil's Cathedral next to Red Square. That is, until a few days ago, when Vladimir Putin dropped by.

On a visit to the site with Sergei Sobyanin, Moscow's Mayor, the Prime Minister had an idea. "You know what I was thinking?" Mr Putin asked. "Practically all parkland in the heart of Moscow has been built over in the past decades. Maybe create a park zone."

With that casual remark, the face of central Moscow may be changed for decades to come. Mr Sobyanin said the idea was "interesting" and within a few hours his office announced that proposals for creating parkland on the site would be drawn up.

A number of projects have been proposed for the site over the years, all of which have fallen by the wayside. Originally, a huge hotel and retail complex was planned, to be designed by the British architect Lord Foster. But that was scrapped when the developer ran into troubles during the financial crisis. Then it was suggested that new government offices could be built on the site, which sits between Red Square and the Moscow river. Now, that plan also seems to have been abandoned. Despite the arbitrary nature of thesuggestion, many Muscovites would welcome a park, which would keep a juicy chunk of central Moscow as public space rather than turn it over to yet another upmarket hotel or shopping centre for the moneyed few.

A leading architecture critic, Grigory Revzin, called it a "brilliant idea". Moscow has seen a shift in attitudes towards parks over the past year, with the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich stepping in to fund the renovation of Gorky Park and a new architecture and urban-planning institute brought in to help co-ordinate the plans.

The Hotel Rossiya was a grey behemoth that could accommodate more than 4,000 guests. In the 1960s, an old neighbourhood of small alleys was bulldozed to make way for it. Now most of the Soviet-era hotels in central Moscow have been bulldozed, replaced with modern five-star equivalents. But the Rossiya site had remained a rubble-strewn, cordoned-off wasteland.