Modernizing the City: Containing Political Ideals and Urban Sprawl

Green corridor in Ulaanbaatar (Source from Ulaanbaatar National Archives)
Green corridor in Ulaanbaatar (Source from Ulaanbaatar National Archives)

In order to proclaim her authority, master plans made by the Soviet ensured adequate green space for Ulaanbaatar citizens in the 1980s, not only to ensure comfortable living quality and good amount of communal space. In this way, the Soviets could establish herself most authoritative and reliable to her satellite country. The green corridor lies from the west to the east of the city, consisted of a pedestrian-only park located at the North-South axis of Ulaanbaatar. The Children’s Park was constructed and courtyards and parks populated the city under the planning. In order to strengthen her control, the Soviets installed communist statues in the parks, such as statue of Lenin. This symbolized the power of the Soviet Union and a reminder of Soviet dominance during the Cold War Era.

During the post-Soviet period, with the decline of communist ideals and the rise of democracy, Mongolia began to abandon their past believes in the Soviet and socialist ideas. Hence, they started the demolition of communist statues within the parks. In order to for Mongolian to regain trust and boost national spirit, a Chinggis Khan Statue was installed in Sukhbaatar Square.

Apart from green space designed by Soviet planners, the Mongolian government also utilized the idea of green belt, not to promote political concepts but to control urban sprawl. Proper road planning of Ulaanbaatar only started in the early 20th Century. The map below depicts the primary and secondary road of Ulaanbaatar. The middle part of the map is congested with planned roads and streets where most residential and commercial districts locate; towards the upper part of the map is where the ger district locates. It was clear that Soviet planning did not expect the rapid expansion of the ger district; thus, it was difficult for them to centrally control the city’s development.

Primary and secondary road system in Ulaanbaatar (Source from Joel Eric Miller)
Primary and secondary road system in Ulaanbaatar (Source from Joel Eric Miller)

The major and most congested roads in Ulaanbaatar are the Peace Avenue and the Narnii Road at which citizens treated the Peace Avenue as the key reference point for orientation as street names were uncommon in Ulaanbaatar and were poorly signed. As the planning from the Soviet abruptly ended in the 1990s, detailed road planning and infrastructural design was not refined. The Mongolian government lacked trained urban planner to continue developing the city and they faced the problems of the center of Ulaanbaatar being already heavily developed and modernized but the periphery of the city was neglected. (As seen from the map above, road design was loose. Current road condition is poor in these districts. )

The ideology of “Garden City” was advocated by Ebenezer Howard in the early 20th Century for developing London in order to contain its urban sprawl and to grow the city in a more systematic way. The concept of having a boundary for peri-urban area was to maintain an area for green activities such as agriculture. The dramatic growth of population in Ulaanbaatar led to uncontrolled urban expansion; thus, this idea of having a green belt was adopted to control urbanization as well as to better develop the city progressively. Urban planning, to Ulaanbaatar, did not only mean modernization, but also possessed the idea to overthrow communist ideals totally and to establish her own mode of urban growth.

1. Gombodorj, Gantulga, and Chinbat Badamdorj. “Urban Land Use Classification and Functional Zoning of Ulaanbaatar City, Mongolia.” August 2010. Accessed December 6, 2016.
2. Munkhnaran .S, Bazarkhand .TS, Chinbat .B, and Gantulga .G. “Green Belt Zoning for Ulaanbaatar City.” International Journal of Science and Research, 2013. Accessed December 3, 2016.
3. Miller, Joel Eric. Nomadic and Domestic: Dwelling on the Edge of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. UCLA Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2013.

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