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The Russians may not get much love in the West, with their history of autocracy and oppression, etc., etc., but they were some fine landscape architects! It's no surprise that in a state aspiring to socialism, a rich public space was something valued.  Walking around Almaty, visitors are almost always surprised by the greenery the colonialists brought, the constant canopies of trees, and the alleyways, which are especially commonplace in the well-pruned center of town. These pedestrian paths, lined with benches, lawns, and trees, are hard to name. Wikipedia tells me they're called avenues, but to many American suburbanites at least, an avenue is just a meaningless appelation used for street names. Others call them boulevards, which sounds too grand, or alleys, which to me is that small street behind your house where you toss your trash. The Russians, those great gardeners, have a precise name for them, though, which is alleiya (аллея), or in its more affectionate forms, alleika (аллейка). I hereby announce its introduction into the English language. 

The good news is that the alleika is having something of a renaissance in Almaty. There was once a lovely alleika that ran down Baiseitova Street in the heart of town. It started at a famous fountain called Nedelka, skirted the iconic Hotel Alma-Ata and led right past the Central Post Office to what we now call the Old Square. In 2004, a 24-story elite apartment complex called Stolichny Tsentr (Столичный Центр ; "Capital Center") went up and its parking lot, protected by gates and guards, split the alleika in half. Such was the sad state of affairs until the Danish urban planner Jan Gehl came to Almaty as a consultant. Gehl's whole mantra is "cities for people," and he urged the Almaty akimat [акимат "city hall"] to make more spaces just for pedestrians. The Baiseitova alleika has since been restored, the alleika on Valikhanov Street has been spiffed up, and a new alleika has been installed in the microdistrict Dorozhnik. 

The fate of alleikas is important because parkspace in Almaty is something that locals really value, whether central parks like Panfilov and Gorky, or these alleikas, parks pulled out long and thin like taffy. Growing up, I thought parks were spaces for screaming kids and nannies. Here, you can find strolling grannies, canoodling teenage lovers, and middle-aged dog walkers, all in the space of a single alleika. Perhaps it's because, in the city center, the apartments tend to be so small, that people prefer to gather in the open air.  To gulyat (гулять; "stroll") is still a common way to spend a warm Friday evening. The alleika is a shrine to urban land's collective ownership and use, and I hope it will be with us to stay, on the map and in the dictionary. 

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