Empty dream of building a city

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Since 2009, if the initiatives of the leaders of our country had been implemented exactly, Mongolia would have had two eco-historical cities, Maidar and Kharkhorum. Ts.Elbegdorj, the former president, said “If Kharkhorum develops, Mongolia will develop” multiple times. Since he worked as the head of the government in 2004, he talked about the need to initiate a project to develop Kharkhorum into a historical city and tourist center and conducted research and planning, and urged the work to start without delay. Even after he became the president, he gathered researchers and historians for this purpose and did a lot of paperwork under the name of research and planning. If what he had planned was implemented, the 800th anniversary of the establishment of the capital of Great Mongolia, Kharkhorum, in 2020, would have laid the foundations of Mongolia’s second city in today’s Kharkhorin soum. Unfortunately, even today, there is not a single brick to lay the foundation of a new city in the Orkhon Valley. The valley has been transformed into an unplanned, messy, polluted and degraded area under the name of a major historical tourism area. 

Former president Kh.Battulga started the project of building Maidar eco-city in 2012 since he was the Minister of Construction and Urban Development. After becoming the president, he instructed the government to advance this work. Subsequently, in 2018, 12,000 hectares of land, more than 10 km away from Zuunmod soum of the Tuv Province, was acquired for the special needs of the state. At that time, there were issues of eviction, transfer of rights and compensation of people who had special permission to own and use land there. Not to mention, a detailed plan for the construction of the city was made in four stages. In doing so, it was planned to complete the engineering network and infrastructure works by 2030. In the spring of 2019, the previous president laid the foundation stone of the Mongolian National Film Industry at the site of the eco-city project. At that moment he said, “In the city of Maidar, which will be built very soon, a film industry complex will be built with modern equipment and technology, consisting of nine studios, production workshops, open shooting areas, warehouses and offices, covering an area of 50 hectares. In this city, numerous things have been planned to attract the attention of foreign and domestic tourists”. Strangely enough, there is currently nothing to catch the eye or notice except for a poorly constructed mud structure in the name of the Great Maitreya god. The area taken for special use is empty. The news of the “Maidar Eco-City” project has also disappeared.

Although the former president Ts.Elbegdorj talked about developing a city for over 20 years, he wasn’t able to make it a reality. The latter president Kh.Battulga also talked about building an eco-city called Maidar but was also unsuccessful in making it a reality. While their empty dreams and unfulfilled promises were not forgotten, the current president decided to rebuild the ancient capital of Mongolia, Kharkhorum. At the end of last year, he handed over the decree issued in this regard to the government. President U.Khurelsukh also followed the approach as if every president should take initiative to develop a city. The presidents of our country take initiative to build a new city, stepping on the pressing issues of healthy and safe living conditions for citizens, decentralizing the capital city, and creating new balanced settlements, as if it’s a trend.

In connection with the President’s order to establish a new city, the Minister of Mongolia and the Chairman of the Government D.Amarbayasgalan submitted the draft of the Parliament’s resolution on the establishment of a city in the Orkhon Valley. Two days later, the draft resolution was discussed at the session of the Parliament. The Ministry of Construction and Urban Development and the Ministry of Education and Culture are responsible for the relevant research and calculations of this project. Basically, it was clearly observed that the appropriate level of organizations is approaching the work of building Kharkhorum city with speed and initiative. However, there are still doubts as to whether this work will continue at this pace, whether it will be successfully implemented or not, and whether it will be included in the plans of the next government. The “Maidar Eco-city” and “4+1” projects initiated by the recent presidents came out with a lot of sensation just like that, and left nothing but a name. The construction of the “New Centennial City” project, which has reached today through the “hands” of five governments, has been delayed for three years due to land disputes. The plan to develop Baganuur and Nalaikh into secondary cities and decentralize the city of Ulaanbaatar has been talked about by previous governments and elected politicians from the respective districts. At the end of all this, the citizens stopped believing that a new city would be built.

Is there really a need to build a new city in Mongolia? If so, is it appropriate to establish it in Kharkhorin soum? How appropriate is it to build a city on a historical site? Kh.Bulgansaikhan, land management engineer and architect, answered this question, “It is very doubtful whether they can build a new city or not. I am afraid they might destroy the historical and monumental places. According to the standards of the cities of the world, they try to preserve such places as much as possible in their old appearance and turn them into tourism. I don’t think they would make a city to move their government administration and service institutions. It is more appropriate to develop the areas such as Baganuur, Nalaikh, Bagakhangai, which are close to the capital and have developed infrastructure, to the status of cities. What our government needs most is a stable policy.” However, architect N. Bat-Uugan, a member of the “Creative-100” association, said, “In the name of researching, developing a detailed plan and feasibility study for the new city, I anticipate that many people will be unnecessarily paid for another 30 years and public money will be wasted. According to the “Vision-2050” work will be done in stages, which means it will continue until then. It is a country with a government that budgets two billion MNT to investigate the causes of traffic jams. How many billions of MNT will be spent under the pretext of building a city? Khushigt Valley is the most useful location for Ulaanbaatar’s decentralization. It is more effective to pay attention to the progress of the work that has been done there.”

As N.Bat-Uugan said, it is undoubtable that a huge amount of money will come out of the state budget in coming years, in the name of researching and calculating to re-develop the Kharkhorum city. It is said that last year, the Ministry of Construction and Urban Development started a project to determine a new location for a city costing 400 million MNT. After determining the location, the said area should be taken and released for special needs of the state. It is unforeseeable when the work would finish, or if it ever will. Even if it’s finished, the next government could disapprove of it.

It is simply like the empty dream and plan that was developed and approved by many billions of MNT within the framework of Maidar eco-city, 4+1, New Centennial City projects. The projects initiated by the Head of State of our country and taken over by the Government set a precedent that continues along this path. How far will president U.Khurelsukh’s dream go? For those of us who cannot solve the problems of the polluted and stressful capital of Ulaanbaatar, and to the people who are suffering, it seems like a distant dream to build a new residential area.

Amarjargal Munkhbat