Tag Archives: Mongolia

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

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Photo update: Mongolia in June

By: Molly McGowan

It’s Friday, so I think photos are in order. Check out some city and country scenes from a recent AHI trip to Ulaanbaatar, where we are working with our local team to help the municipality of Ulaanbaatar develop an affordable housing strategy.

North-facing city view, taken from the Zaisan Memorial

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Ger area, north of city

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Development east of Zaisan Memorial (south of city center)

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Decorative ger outside of working retreat hotel

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Driving back from working retreat hotel

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Chinggis Khan statue

 

 

AHI’s recent study tour to Anchorage and Chicago

As part of its efforts to develop an affordable housing strategy for Ulaanbaatar, AHI conducted a Study Tour to Anchorage, Alaska and Chicago, Illinois for a 10-person delegation of Mongolian municipal and ministerial government officials. Along the way, participants met with nine different organizations and learned how affordable housing is defined, developed, financed, maintained, and accessed in the United States; they also considered what policies and programs may be adaptable to Ulaanbaatar.

Check out a few group shots below!

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The Mongolian delegation meets the Mayor of Anchorage, Dan Sullivan

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The Mongolian delegation on top of Harvest Commons, a Heartland Housing development in Chicago

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Closing event

The race against winter in the slums of Ulaanbaatar

By: Noel Sampson, AHI Nicaragua Regional Analyst

“There are so many new rich people and there is no place for them to spend their money” said Rob, a French- American investor I met on the flight from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (UB). He told me he was building a new club and Irish pub – “the biggest in UB” he promised. I gave a dry smile.  The thought of yet another Irish pub is hard for me to get excited about because they all look the same to me. 

 

Hours later I discovered the city is already full of Irish pubs, crammed in amongst the office towers under a skyline cluttered with cranes. Up in the surrounding hills, beyond the cranes and city lights, the slums are populated by gers (traditional Mongolian tents) exhaling thick coal smoke. The khashaas (individual fenced plots) highlight the organic pattern of the informal urban fabric.

 

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Overview of Ulaanbaatar and its slums far in the back

 

More than 50% of Ulaanbaatar’s population lives in ger-areas and around 47% of ger residents live in poverty. Ger-areas have limited infrastructure and services such as heating, water and sanitation. Residents use coal-fired stoves to survive extremely harsh winters with temperatures below -40°C. Domestic coal fires are the main cause for air pollution in Ulaanbaatar where individual households cannot afford to connect to the city’s power grid. Improving access to services would help to upgrade these areas and improve the quality of life.

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Ger-areas in the district of Selbe

 

A major cause of the growth of slums in Ulaanbaatar is immigration to the city related to dzud – a concurrent natural disaster characterized by summer drought followed by particularly harsh winter with extremely low temperatures and heavy snow. The 2010 dzud affected an estimated 769,106 people (28% of total population) and has resulted in 8.4 million livestock deaths. Many were forced to move to the capital. Other causative factors for the increase of slums include high poverty levels in rural areas, the inexperience of local institutions in dealing with urban issues, natural population growth and the Free Mobility Law. This law, approved by the Supreme Court in 2003, grants every Mongolian the right to freely own a plot of land in the capital.

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View of one family Khashaa

 

The challenge in Ulaanbaatar is therefore a matter of land management and affordability of services and adequate housing. The extreme temperatures  and the spread  of slums make services difficult and expensive to implement. To address these issues, the most viable strategy is to densify ger-areas. Residents can not afford individual connections to services and grouping residents together could reduce the cost for such services.

 

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Lack of access to infrastructure and services are remarkable in Ger-areas

 

The question lies in how to implement such efforts, in particular how slum dwellers will participate in the development strategies of the city.  Another important challenge is how to create a financial flux that integrates private sector, residents and government. It is important to remark there is not small effort towards slum upgrading of ger-areas, any small improvement can create a flow-on effect on service provision to the surrounding slums that continue growing. Thus, opportunities for both residents and private sector, and the city’s development future lie in the provision of adequate housing and the improvement of ger-areas.

 

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Despite construction industry is booming, building season is just five months in a year due to the harsh winter

 

Perhaps, the creation of an entity to act as fair broker between private, residents and government can contribute to fill this gap. Under the support of a new created public-private entity residents could create community builders associations, or similar schemes of housing co-ops as an alternative for affordable housing construction. Residents can start a guided and progressive land pooling process, making land available for public facilities at the time they can have optimums living conditions. This process can allow to lease part of the land to the private sector and obtain in return the finance for the construction of housing buildings and improved urban spaces.

 

Moreover, the creation of such entity can address potential future concerns such as how to work out compensation systems, how to prevent land speculation and rise in land prices after the first residents gain access to services and, more importantly, how to guarantee that residents who take part in eventual slum upgrading strategies will get fair benefits for pooling or trading their land. Additionally, this entity can stimulate private sector investments in areas that have higher profitable potential such as the land along the primary roads.

 

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Formation of slums in the peri-urban areas of the city

 

As the opportunities rise in Ulaanbaatar, the private sector is ready to push forward with urban development, the national economy is booming due to rich mining resources, and the Mayor, Bat-Uul, has outlined a vision of creating urban corridors on the model of Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of the slums. Empowered residents stand to gain through improved housing and lives will be saved from the harsh Mongolian winter while contributing to the city’s economy. Perhaps Rob, my co-passenger from the flight in, would stand to benefit also by making a wiser choice and investing in the community.

The Mongolian urban challenge: A matter of growth, land management and the race against winter in the slums of Ulaanbaatar

By: Noel Sampson, Nicaragua Regional Analyst

 

“There are so many new rich people and there is no place for them to spend their money” said Rob, a French- American investor I met on the flight from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar (UB). He told me he was building a new club and Irish pub – “the biggest in UB” he promised. I gave a dry smile.  The thought of yet another Irish pub is hard for me to get excited about because they all look the same to me. 

 

Hours later I discovered the city is already full of Irish pubs, crammed in amongst the office towers under a skyline cluttered with cranes. Up in the surrounding hills, beyond the cranes and city lights, the slums are populated by gers (traditional Mongolian tents) exhaling thick coal smoke. The khashaas (individual fenced plots) highlight the organic pattern of the informal urban fabric.

 

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Overview of Ulaanbaatar and its slums far in the back

 

More than 50% of Ulaanbaatar’s population lives in ger-areas and around 47% of ger residents live in poverty. Ger-areas have limited infrastructure and services such as heating, water and sanitation. Residents use coal-fired stoves to survive extremely harsh winters with temperatures below -40°C. Domestic coal fires are the main cause for air pollution in Ulaanbaatar where individual households cannot afford to connect to the city’s power grid. Improving access to services would help to upgrade these areas. Creating service hubs and promoting increased population density whilst simultaneously making services more affordable will improve the quality of life.

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Ger-areas in district-subcenter of Byankhoshu

 

In order to address these issues the Municipality of Ulaanbaatar (MUB) has requested the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to plan and finance a service and infrastructure provision strategy. This strategy is intended to increase population density and provide public utilities for the two ger district sub-centers of Byankhoshuu and Selbe.  It is hoped that a flow-on effect will be seen on service provision to the surrounding slums that continue to grow.

 

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Lack of access to infrastructure and services are remarkable in Ger-areas in Selbe sub-district

 

A major cause of the growth of slums in Ulaanbaatar is immigration to the city related to dzud – a concurrent natural disaster characterized by summer drought followed by particularly harsh winter with extremely low temperatures and heavy snow. The 2010 dzud affected an estimated 769,106 people (28% of total population) and has resulted in 8.4 million livestock deaths. Many were forced to move to the capital. Other factors include high poverty levels in rural areas, the inexperience of local institutions in dealing with urban issues, natural population growth and the Free Mobility Law. This law, approved by the Supreme Court in 2003, grants every Mongolian the right to freely own a plot of land in the capital.

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Formation of slums in the peri-urban areas of the city

 

However, there is reason to be optimistic about the potential success of the program. The political will exists, Ger-residents have expressed interest and there are business opportunities for the private sector at a time when the country is experiencing strong economic growth.

The challenges lie in how to implement the program, in particular how slum dwellers will participate in the development strategies. A balance needs to be sought between any benefits and costs of such a program.

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Despite construction industry is booming, building season is just five months in a year due to the harsh winter

 

One option is for residents to pay directly for their connections. This way they need only sacrifice a section of land for road and infrastructure developments of their individual sub-district. However, the monetary cost of such a method would be high, and it would be unlikely to be financially viable for residents. Each heating technical room costs between 15 to 25 Million MNT ($17K USD). A variant of this option is for neighborhood residents to group together to build townhouses and share the costs of connections, but this adds the challenge of financing the construction of the buildings.

 

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View of one family Khashaa in Selbe

 

An alternative is a land trading process, whereby residents trade a portion of their land to the private sector in exchange for financing of connection costs. The private sector will therefore redevelop the land – building residential or mix-use buildings to be sold on the open market.  However, implementation would be a complicated, long process, and might prove unattractive to the private sector and residents. Success would depend on how much land needs to be sacrificed for low to middle density residential construction.

A third option is community land pooling, where neighborhoods from 10 to 20 Khashaas give up the land owned in its entirety to be redeveloped into multi-use compounds including residential, commercial and social service facilities. The private sector would compensate landowners with a “purchasing credit” that can be used to buy an apartment in the new redeveloped area. This alternative is risky because it puts residents at a disadvantage by making them dependent on the private sector. The main advantage lies in the provision of more land for complete service hubs.

 

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Many Ger-areas have consolidated to more permanent houses but still lack of access to services

 

In any of the alternatives there are several questions that need to be addressed, such as how to work out the compensation system, and how to prevent land speculation and a rise in land prices after infrastructure provision. Gentrification of these areas could further marginalise the city’s poorest residents.

To address all these concerns a Sub-Center Redevelopment Agency (SRA) will be established to implement the investment program  in a fair, stable and efficient manner for both citizens and private sector interests. The SRA will have a key role in the implementation of the program along with MUB and ADB’s partners such as UN-HABITAT, which is currently working on community mapping and consultation to address citizens’ preferences.

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Community consultation in Byankhoshu sub-district

 

In Ulaanbaatar the private sector is ready to push forward with urban development, the national economy is booming due to rich mining resources, and the Mayor, Bat-Uul, has outlined a vision of creating urban corridors on the model of Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of the slums. Citizens need to be empowered to participate in the city’s upgrading and redevelopment strategy. Residents stand to gain through improved housing and quality of life, and lives will be saved from the harsh Mongolian winter. Perhaps Rob, my co-passenger from the flight in, would stand to benefit also by making a wiser choice and investing in the community.