In a couple of weeks I will be speaking at the Moscow Urban Forum, and I am asking for your help in making the most of this exciting opportunity. I want to find out more about everyday life for Moscow’s children. Can you help me discover what it is like to grow up in the neighbourhoods that the majority of Muscovite families live in?
Most families live in areas called microdistricts or microrayons: large apartment block estates built during the post-war Soviet era. The Strelka Institute, who are my hosts and the conference organisers, paint an unflattering picture of microrayons. In a blog post that explains their origins in Nikita Khrushchev’s vision of low-cost, functional homes for the masses, the institute states, “What once was a leader’s dream come true, is now a nightmare.”
Google took me to this fascinating website and set of articles on life in the microrayons, written by the Dutch research outfit Partizan Publik. One post features an interview and neighbourhood tour with three teenage boys, who appear to take pleasure in showing the researchers some of the seedier sides of life in their neighbourhood.
Still, this is only one or two districts, and a handful of young people. I am inviting readers to help me find out more. I am especially interested in what everyday life might be like for children between the ages of about 5 to 11 – in other words, once they are at school, but before their teenage years. Are there things to do and places to go outside the home? How much everyday freedom do pre-teens have, and how easy is it for them to get around?
Also – what are the parks and play areas like? This photo library search suggests a familiar design approach, with brightly coloured steel and plastic – and a sterile, unchallenging ambience – fitted as standard.
So: do you know anyone who grew up in a microrayon – in Russia, or in other former Communist states? Can you point me to any articles, research or other content (English language please)? Maybe you grew up in a microrayon yourself? As ever, all contributions would be much appreciated.
Update 1: Monday 19 November 2012: Coincidentally, this weekend’s Guardian had an article by Lucy Ward in its Family section about her experience of living in Moscow with her three young children for two years. There are some interesting observations about the impact of the cold. This was not entirely negative – Lucy says “The freezing winters, indeed, offered perhaps some of our happiest times in Moscow: far from moaning about the cold as they might in England, the children learned to skate, played ice hockey and sledged lethally in the parks.”
Update 2: Tuesday 11 December 2012: I have added a post sharing my reflections on the visit here.