Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hoops in Sukhbaatar Square

A few weeks ago, before the cold set in, I was walking through Sukhbaatar Square and found a basketball tournament in progress. The participants were students from the nearby University of Mongolia. Always nice to see public spaces actually being used by the public! It'd be nice to see mini tournaments like this all summer.  It was good fun for students and spectators who gathered to watch. See pic below.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Public restroom for Lenin Park

The latest innovation in Ulaanbaatar may be the coming of a public toilet. It looks like one of these is going to be built in front of the Ulaanbaatar Hotel, close to the Lenin statue. They’ve put up a fence and drawing of the ‘City Toilet’ that is under construction. Ideas like this will certainly help in making UB a cleaner, healthier city.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sukhbaatar To Be Bronzed

The iconic statue of Sukhbaatar in Sukhbaatar Square was removed recently and the center of the square is fenced off. Apparently a new bronze statue of Sukhbaatar will be placed in the square, replacing the old concrete statue. With Chingis Khaan now bronzed at the top of the square, perhaps some Sukhbaatar fans demanded an upgrade for the young revolutionary. The new statue is meant to be ready in February. A pic of the destruction...


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sambuu Street Improvements




Sambuu Street received a nice upgrade last month. This is the street that runs from Gesar Sum to Little Ring Road, past Tengis Movie Theater. The street was repaved and the park / road divider was cleaned up and grass has been planted. A shiny new green fence has been installed along the perimeter of the park, which I guess is designed to prevent people from running across the road. There is still some work to be done along the sidewalks of this street. I have been told that some natural stone will be used to pave the sidewalks, which would be a nice improvement. Above are some pics of the new street

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chinggis Khaan Ave Upgrade

Chinggis Khaan Road newly sealed

Chinggis Khaan Ave looking south.
Chinggis Khaan Ave north of the Peace Bridge has been resurfaced and slightly widened. It opened up today, improving the traffic, which was horrendous on Monday. The point where the avenue meets Jamyn Gunii Gudamm was widened a little, which will help traffic flow. The project follows the resurfacing of Sambuugiin Gudamj. Both streets now flow a little better and rides are certainly much smoother.

While its great that some of the streets have been resurfaced it would be nice to see an extra parallel parking lane added to these streets. One reason why traffic often gets blocked up is because cars do not have a lane to pull over to, when picking up or dropping off passengers. The lack of an extra parking lane or road apron means that whenever a car stops it clogs up traffic. Just a thought.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

25% of the Children's Park Re-Opens

One quarter of the Children’s Park has officially re-opened. The portion of the park that re-opened is the Amusement Area, located in the southeast corner of the park. It’s a compact area with a number of rides and games for small children.

The company that re-constructed the park, Bodi Group, should get kudos for the job they’ve done. It’s a first rate job, well designed and with a number of activities. Some of the rides include a ferris wheel, a Merry-go-round, a pirates ship, and bumper cars. Entry to the park is free but you have to buy individual tickets for each ride. Each ride costs about T2000 to T2500. They kept the small lake which existed before (and even kept the fish!). They are still working on parts of it – it looks like they will add a restaurant and picnic area. I like the fact that you can just stroll around for free even if you don’t want to go on the rides. Free parking is another nice bonus.

Now of course the big question is, what happens to the rest of the park? A Shangri-La hotel is rising up in the northeast corner of the park but there are still vast areas that have yet to be developed. I hold out hope that the rest of the area will remain a park in a true sense of the word, that is, an open space of grass, trees, walkways and playing fields. Bottom line is that the new amusement park is a great place to take small kids but its of limited interest for people over the age of 13 or 14. Let's hope that UB city authorities will reclaim the land from whoever owns it, keep it as a park, and open it to the general public.

In the meantime, the following are some pictures of the newly opened amusement park.




Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Developments Planned

In a previous post I mentioned that I had visited the planning department at City Hall. While I was there I took pictures of their Master Planning Map. I took a closer look at the map and found some things on it that are worth noting.

The first thing is that the construction happening across the road from the Dunjin Garal apartments is not a going to be a park, as many people had thought. Its going to be more apartments! On the map the development is called “Olympiin Hoton”. So anyone who bought an apartment in Dunjiin Garal and thought that they would get a front view of the new National Park is instead going to be looking at more apartments. Construction of Olympiin Hoton has already started.

However, the good news is that on the other side of Olympiin Hoton there are plans to build a massive open parkland that will stretch all the way to the Tuul River. Let’s all hope that the plan to build this National Park will one day become a reality.

The big map also indicates the following projects:

*A north-south road from the US embassy all the way down to Narny Gudanj. Part of this has already been built but they would still need to construct the section from Orchlon School down to Peace Ave.

*A complete Big Ring Road, with a section going from the old tank location east to Olympic Street, then looping north to connect with the Big Ring Road.

*A redeveloped area around Gandan Monastery

*A redeveloped area north of the Big Ring Road, which practically looks like a whole new downtown area. If this is indeed a new commercial area it would take a lot of pressure off Peace Ave.

*A redeveloped area north of the 3/4 micro-discrict.

*A new parkland and recreation area on the north bank of the Tuul River, across from Zaisan Tolgoi.

Of these, only the Big Ring Road project is currently being developed.

The following two photos show the design plans for the city. Notice in the first pic that the lower right corner has a large patch of green, that is intended to be the future National Park.


The second picture shows the plans for the area around the Naadam Stadium. What is most interesting in the recreation area along the north bank of the Tuul River, opposite Zaisan.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

SIDEWALK IMPROVEMENTS

If you have been walking around UB over the past week or two you may have noticed the flurry of landscaping happening on some of the downtown sidewalks. Actually the improvements are not really on the sidewalks but on the grassy areas that separate the sidewalks from the street. I have seen workers clearing out these areas and planting grass.

Most of the work has been happening in Juulchin Gudamj – the road that runs from Urt Tsagaan to the Government House. Probably the best job has been along the stretch of road in front of the Mongolian KGB office. I think the main reason this works is because it’s just a narrow sidewalk and strip of grass. Nothing fancy, nothing grandiose, but it works well. As you walk past the National Museum and turn left towards, the sidewalk improvement continues right up to the next intersection.

This week the landscapers have started to clear about the overgrowth along Peace Ave, on the southern side of the road, between the Russian Embassy and Center Point. A good thing since Peace Ave hasn’t seen a rake or shovel since Brezhnev was in office. Expect to see a nicer Peace Ave in the coming weeks.

Some pix of the recent progress…



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Big Plans for Liberty Square

I passed by Liberty Square (the square in front of Tengis movie theater) the other day and found the whole thing closed off and surrounded by a big metal fence. A huge billboard outside the fence indicates that the square is being renovated. According to the schematics it will have new benches, a fountain and parking spaces. It all looks pretty flash and should be a nice improvement over the old square, which was just an empty patch of concrete. Hopefully it will all come off as advertised. The new square, the movie theater and a hip new café here called UB40 should breath new life into this area.

Here are some pictures of the billboard…

Billboard advertising the new square

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Plan for Pay Parking Lots in Ulaanbaatar

A plan is in the works for create pay parking lots in Ulaanbaatar. About a dozen lots around the city have been tapped for the plan. About 75% of the spaces are for short term parking and 25 percent for long term overnight parking. Hopefully the money raised by the parking lots will be used to fill in the potholes in other parts of the city! Exactly when these parking lots will be built remains an open question.

The location of the lots include:

*240 spaces at the southern end of Sukhbaatar Square
*71 spaces in front of the Drama Theater
*165 spaces next to the New Children’s Palace (across from Bayangol Hotel)
*216 spaces at the In front of the Ulaanbaatar Hotel
*120 spaces at Builders Square
*159 spaces in front of Yalalt Kino
*118 spaces at Dalai Eej
*96 spaces in front of the Sports Palace
*54 spaces at Zamiin Tsagdaa
*103 spaces at the Train Station

Attached are drawings of what the parking lots would look like…

Drama Theater Parking
Drama Theater

New Children's Palace Parking
Sarnii Titem (New Childrens Palace)

Sukhbaatar Square Parking

Sukhbaatar Square (south end)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Denver Street Opened

First there was Seoul Street, then Tokyo Street, now Ulaanbaatar has Denver Street. That’s right, another Sister City has renamed a street in Ulaanbaatar given it a makeover. This time the city of Denver, USA has gotten into the act.

Unlike Seoul Street and Tokyo Street, which existed before but were spruced up and renamed, Denver Street was created from scratch. A brand spankin’ new stretch of asphalt - a rare but appreciated phenomenon in Ulaanbaatar.

The street occupies the west bank of the Selbe River between Big Ring Road and Zaluuchuudin Ave. In other words, it runs from the US embassy south to the next to the next cross street. It does not continue down the Selbe River to link up with Peace Avenue, which would have been helpful from a traffic point of view, but instead veers onto Zaluuchuudin Street near the Orchlon School.

Formerly a patch of waste ground its now a two-way street with sidewalks, streetlights and benches. But it does not look finished. The street has no trees, no playgrounds, no parks. Not even a sign announcing ‘Welcome to Denver Street’ or some such. It’s pretty much just a street like any other street in UB. Although in fairness the city of Denver tells me (by email) that more improvements are planned for the area. It’s still a work in progress. We’ll just have to wait and see what they do.

The street does have the potential for improvement but there is just one problem – the location. Pedestrians are a rare sight here. Some motor traffic uses it but probably the biggest beneficiaries are people going to and from work at the US embassy (and Lao embassy next door). If the street is meant to improve the urban experience for ordinary citizens of UB, some more work is needed.

Hopefully in the future the road will be extended south to link up with Peace Ave and then continue south to meet the recently built road the runs down to Narny Zam. If done right, it could be a nice area for walkers, joggers and bikers. A bit more green space would attract picnickers and park-goers. This street is worth watching and in time, with some more effort, might just become a new UB landmark.

What would you like to see added to Denver Street? Please add your comments below and they will passed along to the powers that be in Denver. 

Here are some pix of the new street...


Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Sprinkling of New Parks

A handful of small parks have been popping up near Sukhbaatar Square. The best one is the plaza in front of the Shangri-La building. It has all the ingredients of an actual park - cobblestone walkways, a fountain, a grassy lawn and benches.

Attached to the plaza (between the plaza and the Lenin statue) is a new park that seems to have been built with money donated from Turkey. It also contains new walkways and a fountain. The Turks actually built their park on top of an existing park, but it’s a nice improvement.

Lastly, the little park on the east end of Juulchin Gudamj (opposite the KGB office) has been renovated. This park was built by one of Mongolia’s retired sumo wrestlers, which is why it has a slightly Japanese tea garden feel to it. It had been falling apart in recent years and was spruced up earlier this month.

I am holding out hope that the city of Ulaanbaatar will follow the example set by these private companies and donors and build some parks on its own dime. And hopefully the example set by Shangri-La, the Turks and the sumo wrestler will inspire other local companies to the same. My suggestion for any park builders out there – include a playground in your blueprints. UB's kids will thank you for it.

Here are some pics of the new parks…


Thursday, July 8, 2010

We Have a Plan

I popped by the Ulaanbaatar Planning Office today for a streets and parks update. The department is located inside the City Hall building, the large black glass structure on the west side of Sukhbaatar Square. I have visited the department a number of times, but had never been to their display room. Got a chance to see it today.

The display room is on the 13th floor of this building. Here you can see the department's maps, models and design schematics. The plans include the redevelopment of entire districts, the construction of industrial parks, recreation areas and highways. This is no joke. Serious work had been put into these models and I must admit that I was pretty impressed by their plans. Whether or not the city can find the money to actually put any of these plans into action is a different matter altogether, but for now it’s just nice to dream. If you’ve got an interest in town planning of the future of UB (and if you are reading this blog you probably do), then take a gander down to City Hall and check out this impressive exhibit.

Here are a few of the projects they have on display:
*Plans for new pay parking areas: Sukhbaatar Square, Builders Square, next to the New Children’s Palace and other areas. (should not be to hard to implement)
*Big Ring Road – essentially a highway that will encircle downtown. It includes overpasses to get over the railway and a new road that skirts south of the Naadam Stadium (Construction of this project has already started but could take years to finish)
*Riverside Park – along the north bank of the Tuul River. (One of their best ideas. This will promote green spaces and outdoor activities)
*New district around the airport featuring a modern sports stadium (the stadium is nearly finished)
*Modernization of the ger district the circles Gandan Monastery (would take a long time to move residents out)
*Construction of an enormous Buddhist monument on the hill behind Gesar Sum. (This project has been in the planning stages for over 10 years)
*Construction of a national park in the southeast corner of the city. (Looks like this will go ahead, but will take several years to complete).
*Several schematics for the redevelopment of the districts on the outskirts of the city (we're decades away from these to see the light of day).



Sunday, July 4, 2010

COMMENTARY: A Traffic Solution?

The traffic in Ulaanbaatar is at a standstill. All the time, every day. The streets are so clogged that it could take 30 minutes to an hour just to travel a mile or two across downtown. This is not a problem of too many cars it’s a problem of not enough streets. The traffic problem is more than nuisance; it’s a danger. Emergency vehicles, police cars and fire engines can no longer get around the city. Pedestrians consider themselves fortunate if they make it across the street in one piece.

The city of Ulaanbaatar has taken some steps to alleviate this problem. A new road has opened that connects Olympic street to the Big Ring Road. Some of the alleys between apartment blocks have been upgraded to drivable roads. A pedestrian tunnel was built under the road near the Teacher’s College.

But these small measures have so far had no impact and the traffic continues to worsen by the day. What might help, someday, is the new Big Ring Road being constructed around the city. But this will not be complete for several years.

So can anything be done in the meantime? I think so. In 2008, a few weeks before the Olympics, the authorities in Beijing launched a new traffic scheme. According to the plan, cars that had license plates ending in an odd number were allowed to drive on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Cars that had a license plate ending in an even number could drive on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Anyone could drive on Sunday. A driver driving on the wrong day could be pulled over, fined and have his license suspended. I think such a plan would be worth trying in Ulaanbaatar, at least until a better road network can be constructed. Besides relieving traffic there are other side effects, such as improved air quality and safer streets. The plan would likely increase the use of public transportation, ride sharing or biking. If nothing else, it would get people out of their vehicles and walking more.

Anyone else have any ideas how to alleviate traffic in UB? Please send me your comments.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Seoul Street Makeover

Seoul Street, a major artery in downtown Ulaanbaatar has seen some nice renovation work over the past couple of weeks. Pine trees have been planted along portions of the street, brick sidewalks have been laid down and new street lights installed. Low railings have been put in place to prevent people from walking over the lawn (which has not yet grown). They have even added some benches and garbage cans.

Most of the work has been done between the Drama Theater and the Circus, on the south side of the street. The north side of the street, along the edge of the Russian embassy and Presidential Palace, has not been touched. What has been done is quite tasteful and seems like it should last longer than the last renovation job done on this street, about 10 years ago.

The renovated section probably accounts for about 20% Seoul Street. Still, anything is better than nothing and I must say that this is now probably the best pedestrian street in the city. 





Friday, March 12, 2010

New National Park Planned

It looks like plans are afoot to establish a new city park in the south of the city. It will be located between the train tracks and the Tuul River. Nothing has ever been built on this land because under the ground is the ground water that is used for the city drinking water. I saw some pictures of this future park. Bike paths, water fountains, gardens etc. Looks great if they can ever pull it off.

Note that the city is taking donations for this park. You can drop some togrogs in the box, which is located in the State Department Store, next to the money changer on the ground floor.

Children's Park Re-Opening Delayed

I went to Bodi group this week and asked about the status of the Children’s Park. One of the planners there said it won’t be ready this summer but are planning to open some time in the fall. Sounds like October at the earliest. They are building an indoor entertainment complex and food court, which is expected to be open next winter.

I did go past the Children’s Park a couple of times. Even though its all fenced off you can see that some progress has been made. A large Ferris wheel looms over the park and you can see the roofs of some buildings.

Looking at the sample plans they have in their office, it’s clear that the park will not occupy the entire dimensions of the old park. It looks like its maybe only 40% of the old park, occupying the south east quadrant of the park.

Meanwhile, progress also continues on the Shangri-La hotel, which is being built on the north east corner of the old park. An enormous mound of dirt looms over the fence.