Photo Report: Three Days in Ulaanbaatar

By: Anya Brickman Raredon

AHI has been working with the World Bank and Municipality of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to develop an affordable housing strategy for the rapidly growing city.  In late-August, David Smith, our CEO and Founder, and I took a three-and-a-half day trip to present the results.  Fortunately we got a little bit of time away from our meetings to see the city and visit a ger area neighborhood – their term for the informal settlements. What follows is a bit of a photo tour with some interspersed musings.

Located in a high valley at the intersection of two rivers, Ulaanbaatar has some of the worst air pollution in the world, in part due to coal heating in the winters. According to the city masterplan, both rivers have protected buffer zones along their banks, although new apartment construction is edging very close on the south side of the valley.  10534525_10100612341304914_7619381653213947338_n936681_10100612341349824_5668957290735238999_n

Downtown Ulaanbaatar is a striking collection of soviet style apartment blocks, yurts, and modern glass towers all sitting right next to each other. There’s even an amusement park in the middle of downtown.10569050_10100606082482644_1606306620005765474_n                 10593150_10100612341424674_2564284688276477326_n  10629839_10100612341629264_7146385909691851264_n                  10474839_10100606076444744_4868540471071979280_n  10610547_10100612341150224_5811294750562497487_n

And the central government square is an active public space.10409534_10100606082103404_5369281388770141007_n

Formal infrastructure is centralized, including heat, which is generated at coal-fired power plants located on the outskirts of the city and piped to buildings via hot water mains.  1907792_10100612339987554_7412382851762078172_n  1512746_10100612339977574_5539782821263574231_n  10653401_10100612339932664_9192466970070979214_n

The north slopes of the valley are covered by the semi-formal settlements known as ‘ger-areas’ (ger is the Mongolian term for a yurt).  Given the need for good shelter in winter, and the existence of a homesteading-type law, these settlements are not what we usually think of as ‘slums’, but despite some of the outward appearances, most houses lack connections to water and sanitation infrastructure. I suspect the northern slopes were settled in part because they have the most solar exposure in winter, and when it’s negative 30 degrees Fahrenheit, every little bit of sunlight counts!10610879_10100612341679164_5800749493646688410_n               1604878_10100612340920684_6771956955602897598_n  1907816_10100612340965594_6449889141739124500_n10640999_10100612340870784_2622812830256953645_n  10625054_10100612340611304_3644395794386367164_n

After driving around for a little while we went to visit several families along one street, including a grandmother with satellite TV and internet in her yurt, a pensioner who grew cucumbers for market and supported several grandchildren in one yurt, families that had built their own houses – one had a self-built masonry heater connected to a coal stove, and a beautiful permaculture center created and tended by a neighborhood resident.10614190_10100612340651224_9179993387751506870_n 10646681_10100612340681164_8922107547457318232_n  10632683_10100612340207114_1691950787419322629_n  10624961_10100612340252024_7905825378865062093_n  10405583_10100612340506514_8673405177651869074_n  1919673_10100612339937654_1571090214380846739_n    10407662_10100612339942644_6794581982882286329_n  10435901_10100612340416694_4414630290425715776_n

Overall, it was a productive and fascinating trip. Maybe next time I’ll have a chance to get outside of the city!10639702_10100612340316894_3727346981830218741_n

All images copyright Anya Brickman Raredon, 2014.

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