As part of the ongoing and remarkably extensive programme of beautifying central Moscow, an amphitheatre-style seating area (‘Яма’ – ‘the pit’) has been created around a section of the ancient city walls on Khokhlovskaya Ploshchad. It has become a very popular place for young people to socialise and drink alcohol.

This is interesting because drinking alcohol in public has been strictly forbidden in Moscow for the last few years. But it’s tolerated at Яма – a public space set aside for deviant behaviour.

I’d say this sort of liminal space or zone is quite common in cities: it’s probably easier to maintain public order by providing a specific spatial outlet for a given transgression, rather than prevent it happening anywhere. But what I found surprising here is that there is simultaneously a very heavy visible police presence in and around the ‘pit’. Yesterday evening, for example, there was one pair of policemen standing in the middle, another pair walking around the edge, six tough-looking guys in combat outfits, and two large police vans.

One conclusion, drawn also from my wider walks around Moscow, is that there is no shortage of police here: I’m sure the Metropolitan Police in London would be very happy to have so much manpower at their disposal. But also it struck me that what you could call ‘securitised-transgressive’ public space is an interesting ‘type’ that I’ve not read about before. (Perhaps the nearest thing I can think of back home is a music festival with lots of regulations and security checks.)

And I think this space has become so well-known in Moscow (and widely discussed) is precisely because it is full of contradictions and tensions. It always seems to me that the ‘publicness’ of space doesn’t relate to some notion of ‘freedom’, but rather describes, and is constituted by, ambiguities, processes of juxtaposition, and shifting contestations. The most ‘public’ of spaces, in other words, are ones which you’d expect not to work well at all.

Moscow, 13 July 2019