Sunday, October 18, 2009

ULAN BATOR’S EXPANDING GER CITIES

South China Morning Post
OCTOBER 8, 2009

By Michael Kohn

On the gritty outskirts of Ulan Bator, where heavy trucks lumber along pot-holed roads and packs of mangy dogs patrol garbage-strewn alleys, a shiny new billboard is attracting curious onlookers.

The sign describes an ambitious plan to modernize the neighborhood, the 11th ward of Bayanhoshuu District, raising it from slum-like conditions to the first-world in a flash.

A “before” image on the sign shows the neighborhood’s current layout of uneven streets, dead-ends and labyrinth of alleyways. To the right, an “after” image promises a sort of American suburbia experience of neatly trimmed lawns, sidewalks and quaint bungalows in the shade of poplar trees.

“This is our dream,” says community organizer Lhamsuren Ragchabazar. “If we can redesign the neighborhood people will have more conveniences and a better standard of living.”

The plan may sound like fantasy for this poor country, but Ragchabazar was undeterred. A crafty land readjustment scheme, he explains, will fund the project.

Residents are being asked to give a portion of their property, fences will be moved closer together and the excess land will be sold to raise money for much-needed infrastructure like roads and plumbing.

“One needs to give up something in order to get something better in return,” says Hirano Ryuko, a project advisor for JICA, which is supporting the government initiative. “Properties will be smaller but will have more value if the neighborhood is in better shape.”

But only a handful of the families in the neighborhood have signed up for the plan.

“Land readjustment programs take 10 to 15 years,” says Tsedendash Tulga, the head of Ulan Bator’s Land Management and Planning Division. “It can take that long just to change the mind of the community.”

And so it goes for Ulan Bator’s amoeba-like outer districts, which have sprawled out of control over the past two decades. Migrants from rural Mongolia have flooded the capital in search of work; most of the new arrivals end up in peri-urban settlements like Bayanhoshuu.

They bring with them their gers, the round felt tents used by nomads. The widespread use of the ger gives the districts a sense of impermanence, as if the residents may just pack up and return to the steppes one day. The wood fences dividing the gers create a maze of walls reminiscent of frontier outposts of the American west.

The tents are not new to the city. Since its early days in the mid-1600s the residents had a habit of moving the town every few years, until it eventually came to rest at its current location in 1778. Traditionally the gers were set up like a protective ring around the main monastery, Gandantegchinlin. The city grew rapidly during 20th century when Soviet town planners arrived with blueprints for a modern urban core. But most of the ger districts remained, expanded into valleys.

Migrants continue to arrive and occupy any possible patch of earth, often in flood prone areas. Last July eight people in Ulan Bator died in floods when their gers, placed in steep sided gullies, were washed away.

The uncontrolled growth of the ger areas means that no space has been set aside for roads, let alone basic necessities such as underground sewerage systems.

In Bayanhoshuu, residents line up outside a pump house for water, which they cart it home in plastic barrels. Hot showers can be had at a local bathhouse, though it’s too small to accommodate the needs the 10,000 district residents.

“It’s a difficult life because we have to go a long way for water,” says Puruvdulam Tsetsegee, a retired state employee who lives in the neighborhood. “And showers are very expensive. We have a family of six and each shower costs Tg1800 ($1.25). On top of this we have buy food and other necessities so it really adds up.”

Problems are exacerbated in winter when temperatures plummet to minus 30 degrees Celsius. Residents keep warm by burning coal or wood in their pot-bellied stoves, although this of little use during midnight runs to the nearest outhouse.

In winter, the accumulated soot caused by tens of thousands of stoves creates an appalling black cloud that engulfs the entire city. This winter an estimated 700,000 tons of coal is needed to supply the city’s 160,000 ger district families.

The situation is not helped by Ulaanbaatar’s topography – it’s almost completely surrounded by low mountains that trap the poisonous air until a strong wind can blow it away.

The smog has had detrimental affects on the health of the population. The number respiratory diseases among children under five is three times greater in Ulaanbaatar compared to children living outside the city.

Planners say the long-term goal is to install central heating in the ger districts, thereby reducing their dependence on coal. But that could take decades.

The task of sorting out this mess has been left to Tulga, who occupies a small office in Ulan Bator’s gleaming new City Hall. He said almost three quarters of city residents live in ger districts and the challenge of moving them to apartments is hampered by the increasing numbers of new migrants.

“It is difficult to control migration. The people have a constitutional right to live where ever they want so we can’t stop them from moving to the capital,” Tulga explains.

A lack of zoning laws means that newly arrived to pitch their tents where ever they please. The city is dealing with that problem by dividing the ger districts into three categories.

Zone One, closest to the urban core, will be transformed into mixed-use housing with apartments and commercial areas. Zone Two, slightly farther out, will remain ger districts, only better organized and connected to the urban infrastructure. Zone Three, mainly the new developments on the outskirts, will be torn down and returned to its natural state.

People currently living in Zone Three will be moved to other parts of the city, increasing the density of the capital but reducing the sprawl that has wrought environmental problems like pollution and land degradation.

The urban crush has had a ripple effect on Ulan Bator’s city center, where once empty boulevards now teem with Korean taxis, Humvees and Landcruisers. During the mid-day rush hour it can take 30 minutes to drive three kilometers across the city center.

“We cannot blame one person, like the mayor the prime minister. Every city worker is jointly responsible for these issues. We all have to come together to solve these problems,” said Tulga.

The city has recently given him a boost by installing streets lights around back alleys of
Bayanhoshuu. Some of the lights are solar-powered, part of a government effort to use environmentally friendly technology.

But despite the token gestures by City Hall, Tulga admits the onus is on the public to reform their own neighborhoods.

“The main purpose of the pilot project is to show the community that it can work with the city to make necessary changes for a better life,” he said.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

AN ANSWER COMMETH

Many of my questions about the Children’s Park were answered recently when I met with people from the Bodi Corporation. Since my last post I have learned that Bodi is the principle investor in the park, so I paid an visit to their offices, located just off Sukhbaatar Square.

I spoke with Souger, the project manager for the “National Amusement Park”, which is being built by Bodi. He was cordial and open to revealing plans for a park. But first he gave a little background. Why has the park been closed for five years? I asked.

He summed up the mess in the park by saying that “land disputes” had caused a delay in the construction of the park, but everything seems to be resolved and its now full steam ahead. He didn’t go into detail about what these land disputes were, but they must have been ugly.

Souger explained that MCS and Shangri-La have managed to secure one corner of the park and they are now developing it into a hotel. This land grab should not have happened but fortunately it was just one corner of the park, representing probably 15-20% of the total space.

The other 80% of the land is controlled by Bodi, which seems to have some sort of joint ownership with the city. Personally, I do not subscribe to the belief that city parkland should be handed over to a private company to develop an amusement park (or anything for that matter).

I would have preferred that the city take on the responsibility for maintaining the park but they were clearly in no position to build any rides, which is why the land was handed over to Bodi. Unfortuantely, the city simply handed over too much of the park for commercialization. It seems that Bodi is under no obligation to leave any part of the park as open space. In theory they could develop the entire park into one giant money making venture.

I saw the plans of the park. It’s going to have roller coasters and various other rides, a food court, an indoor activities center (which will be open year round) and a barbeque area. As Souger explained to me, there would be a small entry fee (he said Tg500) and each ride would cost around Tg1000 to Tg2000.

So the big question was, will there be any open space left? A grassy space to sit down with a book perhaps? A trail for jogging and biking? A field for pick-up soccer games and picnics? The answer is unclear.

Clearly, Bodi is in this to make money. So they have little incentive to leave much open space. And even if they do leave open space they may end up charging people to enter it. This issue was seems to not be finalized but one hopes that the developers see the light of day and allow some part of the park to be free, open space for anybody’s use.

The park is meant to open in July 2010. If you have any suggestions for the development of the park, you can mail them to National Amusement Park, #400 Bodi Tower, Jigjidjav St, Ulaanbaatar 15160. Address your letter to Souger.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Children's Park - July 2009 update

Finally had a chance to get down the Children’s Park. There is good news and there is bad news. First the good news: most of the park is still untouched and undeveloped. In fact, about 90 percent of it has been completely abandoned to the point where weeds and trees are growing over the pathways like some Lost World. I tried jogging through the park but it’s so overgrown that you kind of have to wade through it.

Now the bad news: the park is still fenced off and more or less closed to the public. I was able to get in by the one and only entrance near the Seoul Restaurant, but it’s clearly not meant for public use. It seems like only a matter of time before the land is somehow developed. In fact, some development has already begun. Specifically, the northeast corner of the park, which has been fenced off and cleared by earthmovers. There is no construction yet but it looks like someone is getting ready to build something there. I would estimate that this constitutes about 10% of the total park land. Now, there is one other part of the park that is being developed. You probably recall that the park had a lake. Well, this lake has been drained but it looks like its being repaired so that it can be filled again. Some trees have been planted around this lake. There is nothing really to indicate what it is being prepared for, but if I can crack this case I will let y’all know.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The following article regarding the park was published in November 08. The long and short of it is that Bodi, which Korean financing, plans to build an amusement park in the Children's Park. Details are scant. Will there be any open space leftover? How much will it cost to enter? Will apartments or commercial space occupy this property? The interviewer does not address these critical issues.

“Диснейлэнд”-ийн эхний ээлжийн хvvхдийн баяраар ашиглалтад орно
/2008-11-14/

Yндэсний соёл амралтын хvрээлэнг “Бодь групп” Японы “Иточу” корпорацитай хамтран шинэчлэх болсон тухай мэдээлэл цацагдсанаас хойш багагvй хугацаа өнгөрлөө. Хvvхдvvд дэлхийд алдартай “Диснейлэнд”-ээс дутахгvй тоглоом тоглож, зугаалах том парктай болох мөрөөдлөө гээгээгvй яваа. Гэтэл сvvлийн vед “Голомт” банктай холбоотой цуурхал олон нийтэд хvрч “Иточу” корпораци болон “Бодь групп” МYСАХ-г шинэчлэх санхvvгийн боломжгvй болсон мэтээр мэдээлсэн нь анхаарал татсан юм. Энэ тухай МYСАХ-ийн зохицуулагч Б.Батнягтаас тодрууллаа.

-Хvvхдийн паркийг дахин шинээр байгуулах төслийг “Бодь групп” авч байхад сайн ажиллах байх гэж бодож байсан. Гэсэн ч энэ vеэс хойш хоёр жил өнгөрчихөөд байхад хийсэн бvтээсэн юм харагдахгvй байна. Ямар шалтгаанаар хугацаа алдахад хvрэв?

-Шалтгаан нь Хvvхдийн паркийн асуудал , газрын маргаантай холбоотой. Бид ажлаа эхлvvлэхийн тулд нийслэлээс зөвшөөрөл авч судалж vзсэн. Орц гарц нь хаанаа байх юм, хvмvvс хаагуураа явах, тоглоом нь хаанаа суурилах гэхчилэн судлах юм ч олон байлаа. Хуучин паркын тоглоомууд нь хоцрогдсон, өр зээлтэй, хvмvvс тоож очихоо больчихоод байсан шvv дээ. Бас аюулгvй байдлын талаасаа найдваргvй байлаа. Энэ бvхнийг шинэчилсэн шиг шинэчилье. Монголын хvvхдvvд яагаад бусад орны багачуудтай адил өндөр зэрэглэлийн Диснейлэндэд тоглох эрхгvй гэж. Ийм л урам зоригтойгоор ажлаа эхлvvлсэн. Гэтэл газрын маргаан бараг хоёр жил шахам vргэлжиллээ. Саяхнаас маргаан шийдэгдэж, өмнөх эрхээ өөрийн болгочихоод байтал дахиад л цуу яриа дэгдлээ. “Голомт” банкны бизнесийн нэр хvндэд халдаж, зориуд гvтгэлэг тараахын тулд Хvvхдийн паркийг дунд нь хутгаж байна.

-Газрын маргаан Хvvхдийн паркийн зураг төсөлд нөлөөлсөн vv? Ирээдvйн “Диснейлэнд”-ийн зураг төслийг хэрхэн хийснийг сонирхуулаач?

-Зураг төслөө Солонгосын компаниар хийлгэсэн. Энэ явцад зураг дээрээ хоёр ч удаа өөрчлөлт хийлээ. Орох хаалгаа зvvн талдаа болгоё гэтэл тэр газрыг өөр компани авчихсан байсан. Тэр компанийн газрыг судлаад vзтэл зөвшөөрөл авах эрхгvй компани энэ газрыг авсан байсан. Тухайн vед бид энэ асуудлыг нийслэлийн удирдлагуудад өргөн барьж, газар эзэмших эрхийг нь цуцалсан. Захиргааны хэргийн шvvх хурал нэг жил долоон сар гаруй vргэлжиллээ. Энэ мэтийн асуудлаас vvдэн хугацаа алдсан юм бий. Асуудлаа шийдvvлэх явцад бид Канадын компанид хандаж зураг төслөө vзvvлсэн. Канадын уур амьсгал нь манай оронтой адилхан болохоор тэд илvv туршлагатай, Монголын нөхцөлд зохицсон зураг төсөл хийж чадах байлаа. Yнэхээр ч тэд бидний зургийг vзэж судалсан, манай оронд гурван ч удаа ирж vзсэний эцэст тэд ажлаа хийж эхэлсэн. Yvнтэй зэрэгцэн газрын маргаан vргэлжилсээр л байсан.

-Тэгээд хvvхэд багачууд, эцэг эхчvvдэд дуулгах сайн мэдээ байна уу?

-Сайн мэдээ гэвэл одоо газрын маргаан эцсийн байдлаар шийдэгдчихсэн байгаа. Бид газраа баталгаажуулж авснаар гол ажил руугаа орох боломжтой боллоо.

-Одоо ажлын явц ямар байна? Ямар ч гэсэн хуучин тоглоомнуудыг буулгасан харагдсан?

-Алсыг харагчаас бусад тоглоомыг буулгасан. Хуучин тоглоомын ихэнх нь хөдөө аймгууд руу явсан. Шинээр 13 тоглоом суурилуулах ёстойгоос найм нь Улаанбаатарт ирчихээд байна. Маргааш дахин дөрвөн тоглоомоо буулгаж авна. Yлдсэн тоглоомууд тун удахгvй Монголд ирнэ.

-МYСАХ төслийн хөрөнгө оруулалт зогссон мэтээр зарим хэвлэлд мэдээлсэн. Энэ талаар төслийн зохицуулагчийн хувьд ямар хариу хэлэх вэ?

-Дөрвөн тэрбум төгрөг төлөвлөснөөс одоогийн байдлаар гурван тэрбумын хөрөнгө оруулалт хийгдчихээд байна. Хөрөнгө оруулалт зогссон юм байхгvй. Энэ бол зориуд тарааж байгаа гvтгэлэг гэдгийг хэлмээр байна. Миний дээр хэлсэнчлэн “Голомт” банкны vйл ажиллагааг доголдуулах зорилгоор тараасан цуурхлаа vнэмшилтэй болгохын тулд МYСАХ төслийн хөрөнгө оруулалтын асуудлыг зориуд хөндсөн гэж vзэж байна. Хөрөнгө оруулалт зогсоогvй гэдгийг би нэг л зvйлээр баталъя. Өчигдөрхөн манайх шинээр ирж байгаа дөрвөн тоглоомын тээврийн зардал, гаалийн татварт 100 мянга орчим ам.долларыг төлсөн.

-Хvvхдийн паркийг шинэчлэх ажил хэвийн явагдаж байгаа юм байна. Гэхдээ нэг зvйлийг тодруулахгvй бол болохгvй нь. Хvvхдvvд маань хэзээ шинэ Диснейлэндэд тоглох вэ?

-Газрын маргаан зэрэг зарим зvйлээс болоод хугацаа их алдсан гэдгийг тvрvvн хэлсэн шvv дээ. Хvйтэн сэрvvний улирал эхэлсэн нь ажлын явцад тодорхой хэмжээгээр саад учруулж байгааг манайхан ойлгох байх. Гэхдээ гурван шатлалтайгаар ажил өрнөж байна. Нуур тойрсон тоглоомын хэсэг, амарч зугаалах, салхилах томоохон ногоон байгууламж, худалдаа vйлчилгээний цэг гэсэн зохион байгуулалтын хуваарийн дагуу ажиллана. Миний хэлж чадах зvйл гэвэл ямар ч гэсэн Хvvхдийн паркийн нэгээхэн хэсэг нь ирэх оны зургадугаар сарын 1 гэхэд ашиглалтанд орж, хvvхдvvд тоглох боломжтой болно. Тэгэхдээ байгаль цаг уур, элдэв шат дамжлага, тээвэрлэлт, зөөврийн асуудал гээд олон хvчин зvйл vvнд нөлөөлнө гэдгийг бас хэлье.

Зууны мэдээ