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A Park-Building Revolution Is Transforming a Russian City

A public space initiative in the Tatarstan city of Kazan is using a participatory design approach to create hundreds of new projects.

The new pedestrian promenade surrounding Kazan’s Kaban Lake features illuminated benches. 

The new pedestrian promenade surrounding Kazan’s Kaban Lake features illuminated benches. 

Photographer: Daniil Shvedov

In 2015, Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova arrived in Kazan, capital of the semi-autonomous Russian republic of Tatarstan, to oversee a large public works program. Then only 24 years old, she found a city with a population of 1.7 million, a renowned university, grand boulevards and major historic sites, including a Unesco-listed walled Kremlin from which Mongols once ruled.

But Kazan also was a typical post-Soviet city — surrounded by drab concrete tower complexes and parking lots. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, little attention had been devoted to revitalizing derelict public open spaces or to building new ones.