The hidden life of 32 monotowns

Measuring the quality of life in Russian industrial cities

Monotowns – cities whose economic life is dominated by a single industry – span a wide range of topographical, natural, and historical conditions, and represent a wide range of twentieth-century planning styles. Therefore, improving the quality of life in these cities requires an individualised, careful analysis of each location’s networks, perceptions, and activities.

Using social media data, the SPIN Unit team has researched and revealed the “invisible lives” of 32 Russian monotowns for which there was no available base data. Our main goal was to study human activity patterns to assess the quality of life of remote industrial cities across Russia.

Our analytics provide an unprecedented insight into the unique culture and trends of each individual city. This understanding will enable architects, urban planners, and developers to successfully evolve and improve individual monotowns based on the changing needs and wants of their citizens.

While SPIN Unit has previously studied and consulted on measuring the quality of life of urban spaces in other European cities (including London, Moscow, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, and Moscow), the study of monotowns provided a unique challenge, as no initial economic or demographic information was available and they are evenly distributed over the territory of Russia, making it impossible to carry out physical surveys. Using our data, we measured and compared the quality of life of each city based on the number of activities occurring in a city, and the distribution of these activities. A city with a high number of activities, evenly distributed across its urban space, was considered to be more vibrant and varied.

Project details

  • Client: Strelka KB
  • Date: Nov. 2016
  • Outcomes: Report and data
  • Licensing: Property of Strelka KB
  • Full report on methodology, data analytics, and results is under exclusive Strelka licence until 2018, and cannot be currently released by SPIN Unit


  • Damiano Cerrone (SPIN Unit)
  • Raul Kalvo (InPhysica)
  • Panu Lehtovuori (SPIN Unit)
  • Daniel Giovannini (SPIN Unit)
  • Daniele Quercia (Nokia Bell Labs)
  • Luca Maria Aiello (Nokia Bell Labs)
  • Rossano Schifanella (University of Turin)
  • Maria Valese (Sapienza University of Rome)
  • Herbert Natta (Sapienza University of Rome)
  • Jesús López Baeza (SPIN Unit/University of Alicante)
  • Irene Cotroneo (Tampere University of Technology)
  • Sophie Gleizes (Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health)
  • Zon Sutjarit (Sciences Po)
  • Kaisa Lindström (Estonian Academy of Arts)
  • Helen Pau (SPIN Unit)