"Sleeping district" is a common name of certain microrayons that have remote location, fragmented social infrastructure, monotonous architecture, weak communities and underdeveloped public spaces. They are usually associated with depressive environment and higher crime rate.

1. Communism on paper

Urban planners of 1950s believed that microrayon would become be the main environment for communication between neighbors. Small community centers spread uniformly in residential areas, such as clubs, “red corners”, culture halls and so on, were designed to make this idea come true. They believed that all necessary conditions for the development of communist forms of life, recreation, education and training could be organised in residential areas. At the XXI Congress of the Communist Party, Khrushchev said: "Today we can already see better and better developed forms of communist labor, organization of production and services to satisfy the needs of citizens, such as public cafeterias, schools, kindergartens and nurseries. Today we see many features of communism in our society, and they will further develop and improve."

This powerful idea had a painful collision with real life and real people. For them, simply being neighbors did not automatically bring people together into an active community.

2. Inacessibility of services

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Development of complex solutions for development of cultural and service facilities in residential areas and microrayons, as well as their accessibility and convenience for residents, were set as one of the most important tasks for the Soviet urban planners at the All-Union Conference on City Planning in 1960.

A lot was said about the complex approach to planning of microrayons that would include well-developed networks of public facilities and
services. According to the masterplans of microrayons, gardens, lawns, parking lots, recreational space and playgrounds were to be located in between. Usually, everything looked neat and attractive on blueprints, but not much was actually realized. In the 60s, most of yards featured none of the above, except of some greenery, randomly planted by residents themselves. Builders were trying to put into operation as of the quadrature of living space much as possible. Construction of all other infrastructure, including first needs, was often postponed for an indefinite period of time.

Practice showed that the speed of housing construction was too fast to make public facilities of available to the residents on time. Objects of daily, periodic and episodic use of were randomly distributed throughout the urban area, uniformity and precisely defined distances from the housing were not met. Rigidly prescribed step-by-step system of service was developed regardless of specific needs of specific people. It could not always meet the changing needs for comfort, security, entertainment, communication and beauty.

3. Remote location

From the very beginning of mass construction, transport problem was considered a crucial one. Usually, housing was built first, while transport and social infrastructure followed with big delays, causing a lot of discomfort to residents who were cut of from existing service centers and had no new ones built in time.

4. Monotony and gaps

"Moscow’s architectural appearance does not yet meet the requirements of a modern capital city", - stated Moscow City Council session in 1960. By the end of the Khrushchev era, Moscow microrayons were built up with the same type of five-story buildings, the so called khrushchevkas, one house resembling the other, all of them following the same approved pattern and style. In 1965, "Literaturnaya" newspaper published photos frommicrorayons, taken in four different areas of Moscow. They were alike as two peas in a pod. Moscow had hundreds of such twins. At that time, typization was seen as a valuable feature of modern construction.
Krasnaya Gorka microrayon in Lyubertsy
Krasnaya Gorka microrayon in Lyubertsy

The very sameness of apartments and houses was perceived as a valuable feature and an achievement of a desirable and affordable standard.

As the houses became higher, growing as high as 9, 12 or 16-storeys, sanitary norms for insolation increased distance between neighboring buildings. Vast territories in between were reserved for preplanned construction of public facilities and social infrastructure which never came to be. Gaps appeared in the hearts of microrayons. It took years to build them up. Sometimes it didn't happen at all, and these territories remained abandoned.

Emergence of the so-called "white spots" led to a decline in availability and accessibility of public services in microrayons. Impersonality and emptiness of vast spaces in between became one of the causes for citizens to have nostalgia for a much denser environment of the old city.

5. Sleeping districts expansion

Bibirevo - one of Moscow's sleeping districts
Bibirevo - one of Moscow's sleeping districts
Further expansion of Moscow required for more
of mass housing blocks to be built on the periphery of Moscow. Most of the new neighborhood turned into the so-called sleeping districts (spal'nye rayony), such as Yasenevo, Kuz’minki or Medvedkovo. They were called so, because people had nothing to do there, except sleeping. There were no public facilities and service amenities “at hand”. An increasing number of residents were forced to spend long hours commuting to work, department stores or entertainment sites.

New residential construction went farther and farther away from the city center. The city was rapidly decomposing into the public center and separates suburbs.

6. How to enlive it

During the last 10 years, there has been a number of attempts to bring new life into microrayons. Their early predecessor is the famous Bulldozer Exhibition in 1974, when works of art were displayed in a public space in Belyaevo, which was severely broken up by the authorities.
Exhibition of avangarde art in Belyaevo, September 15, 1974
Exhibition of avangarde art in Belyaevo, September 15, 1974

One of successful examples of a modernisation by the means of art today is the work of international graffiti-artists at Izumrudnaya street in Moscow, who turned a monotonous typology into an exhibition of progressive modern painting.

Ul. Izumrudnaya, Moscow. 12 walls of panel houses are painted by Russian and Dutch artists, 2007


Another example is an on-going art project "Spal'nyi rayon", which brings art into schools and public places in Moscow microrayons and invites kids and adults to participate in various creative activities. Recently, they turned Yuzhnoye Butovo into a stage for an exhibition of professional art aimed at attracting attention to various psychological, social and cultural problems of people in microrayons. "Spal'nyi payon" is an active participants of Moscow biennale of modern art.

A symbol of problems created for kids by adults by Lekha Garikovich and Yuzhnoe Butovo Society for Protection of Children
A symbol of problems created for kids by adults by Lekha Garikovich and Yuzhnoe Butovo Society for Protection of Children

See also

Microrayon (definition)
Step-by-step service
Problems of Soviet urban transport
Microrayon Modernisation Overlook
Microrayon situations
Demolish or Reconstruct
Development of housing market in Moscow


1. http://www.dissercat.com/content/zhilishchnoe-stroitelstvo-v-moskve-kak-sotsiokulturnaya-problema-1953-1991
2. http://echo.msk.ru/blog/tatiana_pelipeiko/821002-echo/
3. http://www.chayka.org/article.php?id=2594