Planned Petrodollar Utopia for Kazakhstan?

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An unfortunate example of petrodollars funding construction of monuments to strongmen and their corporate-multi-national enablers…

Published in the Guardian

The Bayterek tower, designed by president Nursultan Nazarbayev, stands at the centre of Astana’s main avenue Photograph: Antoine Lambroschini/AFP/Getty Images

Space Station in the Steppes – Astana, Kazakhstan

“Astana, Kazakhstan: The Space Station in the Steppes,”  By Rowan Moore. Published in The Observer, Guardian UK, Sun, 8 August 2010.

Called Astana, it is the world’s latest example of a rare but persistent type, the capital from built from nothing. It is in a line that includes St Petersburg, Washington DC, Canberra, Ankara and Brasilia and like them it provokes a question: can a city, in all its teeming complexity, really be planned? Or does the attempt lead only to a synthetic simulacrum, a kind-of city that is not quite the real thing?

What Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev wanted he got, thanks partly to oil revenues from the distant Caspian Sea, which Nazarbayev claimed for Kazakhstan in a protracted haggle with Boris Yeltsin – closing the deal with the help of vodka and a map doodled on a napkin, which is now in the Museum of the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Like Persian Gulf cities, Astana floats on an exhalation of petrodollars. Like Gulf cities and new Chinese cities such as Shenzhen, Astana inspires wonder that it is there at all; but while having some buildings of eye-aching ugliness, it has a greater sense of order. At street level in Dubai all is congestion. Here it is trimmed hedges, well-behaved traffic, well-kept paving and a complete lack of litter, or of visible signs of prostitution, drug-taking or beggary. It most resembles the controlled cleanliness of Singapore.”

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Jack Eidt

About Jack Eidt

Writer, urban theorist, and environmental advocate, Jack Eidt careens down human-nature's all consuming one-way highway to its inevitable conclusion - Wilder Utopia. He co-founded Wild Heritage Planners, based out of Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com.