Town planning

July 8th, 2016 Sections: Contemporary Kyrgyzstan, Life In Kyrgyzstan

 I was wondering why there had been a spate of reports in the media about the construction boom here in Kyrgyzstan – or, more specifically here in the capital, Bishkek.

In theory, this is all controlled, regulated, supervised and monitored by the authorities – the local authorities, the state inspectorates.  There is a grand Master Plan – called the Town Plan.

Bishkek was originally planned by military engineers when the regional administrative headquarters were moved from Tokmok to Pishpek … creating wide boulevards and a grid system of streets orientated North-South and East-to-West.   The plan has changed over the years as the city has grown and the town plan has been amended and updated, revised and modified, from time to time …

… and it’s caused us a few problems with the hotel – but that’s another story, for another postcard …

… and the latest version was approved last year.

It used to be kept secret … but apparently the veil of secrecy was lifted with the latest version … if, that is, you can find a copy.

One of the main features of the development of the city is the number of high rise construction sites  – mainly ‘elite’ apartment blocks … and whilst some of them have been seen as a sign of progress … others have proved to be more controversial,  There are some concerns about the quality or standard of construction, whether there have have been violations of the rules and regulations governing construction projects … the distance between buildings … the orientation and placement of windows … the quality of materials … the standard of workmanship – for example bricklaying … claddinig tiles that fall from building facades … conformity to fire sfaety and seismological standards … and so on …

Housing was always an important issue in the soviet Union … it was seen as one of the main functions of the government – to provide housing for the people.  It was even the cause of civil unrest on a number of occasions – when thought that the limited available housing stocks were being allocated to ‘outsiders’.

That’s one reason that I have always found it hard to understand the current trend for ‘elite’ housing … with, apparently, scant attention being given to ‘social housing’ projects – ‘affordable housing’, suitable for ‘first time buyers’ … and for people being able to progress up the ‘property ladder’.  Part of the reason for that, of course, is that the public purse doesn’t have enough fuunds available for major housing projects … and so for the most part, construction has been financed by the private sector … and sp the ‘elite’ market is seen as the most perspective for development.

Indeed. for a long time, it seemed as if the main drive in housing construction was samostroi – do-it-yourself construction – usually single storey houses on the outskirts of town … often made from glina, mud bricks.

That’s a bit unfair, actually, as there have been occasional calls for social housing projects to be undertaken … and a number of blocks have been erected in central Bishkek, but most are located in the outlying suburbs.  Some housing projects have also been started to provide accommodation for government service employees such as police, firemen and the military.  It is sometimes a requirement for gaining permission from the authorities to build, that some apartments should be provided to the local authorities for ‘social use’ – such as providing accommodateion to invalids of needy families.

Although there has been some attempts to develop some social housing projects … the emphasis in the city center still seems to be focused on the ‘elite’ market.

Well, for some time now, one of the political parties has been promoting the need for the center of Bishkek to become a modern capital city, with new buildings reflecting the city’s status.  They have identified an area bounded by four main roads and published a draft law for public consultation: On the reconstruction and development of the historical center of Bishkek … and this has certainly met with a spirited response.

It is said that in this central area, the draft proposes to return the land to municipal ownership … and where it is planned to build some 77 high rise buildings.  Of course, there are a few problems with implementing this plan …

First of all, the city doesn’t have the funds for such large developments … so they are going to have to find the finance from somewhere … and, at the moment, the talk is, apparently, of attracting investors who would undertake the various projects.

It’s thought that this might not actually be a major problem – after all, there has already been considerable success in this field … as is evident from the burgeoning number of major construction projects that have either been completed or are currently underway.  Indeed, Construction is seen as one of the major growth areas of the economy.

The developers will finance the construction … and then sell the properties that they have built.

In theory, that is a good idea … if the market remains buoyant, but any significant downturn in the market might cause the current bubble to burst … and some people think that we are already seeing signs of such a phenomenon.

Secondly, we are not talking about a Green Fields development.  This is the city center and there are already buildings occupying the valuable land that will be required for the construction projects.  As a result, these will need to be purchased and then the existing buildings demolished to make way for the high rise blocks that will take their place.

Backers of the proposed draft have presented a scheme for compulsory purchase of the land and the buildings on it … with compensation, at ‘market values’ – to be set by an independent commission, paid to the current owners.  Although there are accusations flying around that this amounts to ‘theft’ and unconstitutional in that it deprives people of their property without a court order … in fact, there is nothing new in this … there are already provisions for such a scheme set out in Kyrgyz legislation … but the scale of the vision for the development of the city center is greater than originally planned.

There are questions and concerns being voiced about how the valuation will be carried out … and the sums that are likely to be paid … with a dampening effect being applied on valuations when it comes to compensating the owners of existing properties … and inflating the values of any new construction regardless of the quality of materials and workmanship … perhaps leading to overpricing – at least, that’s the concern.

Figures have been mentioned for likely levels of compensation … which would effectively mean that it would not be possible for someone to purchase an equivalent property in the city … not even in the outlying microdistricts.

As an aside … I happened to be talking to a taxi driver today, who hails from the Issyk Kul region, who was bemoaning the cost of accommodation here in Bishkek.  He told me that in his home town it was possible to buy a house (he gave no further details – for example, the size, number of rooms, location, etc.) for just USD3000 – which seemed to me quite cheap, and made me wonder about some of those price factors – but that you couldn’t get anything for that sort of money here in Bishkek.

It’s true that the figures that are being mentioned in terms of compensation that might be paid are higher – one source is suggesting that there will be a price of something like just USD100 per square meter … which means that my apartment would entitle me to USD5000 … which isn’t much better, and probably wouldn’t enable me to find an alternative apartment in the city – certainly not in the city center.

Another source suggests that a typical apartment might raise something like USD17000 … but, there aren’t that many apartments with 170 square meters, so I am not sure what counts as typical … and, once again, it would not be possible to find much in Bishkek for that for that sort of price … if at all.

 

So, you can imaging how social media has been abuzz with comment.  There have been numerous articles published in the media; leaf,lets have been fly-posted; meetings called; and so on.  Most of the comment I have seen has been, if not not exactly outright opposed – then, at least, full of cynical suspicion about how the system as outlined in the draft would work in practice.  It all sounds very good, very logical and expressed in beautiful words – seems to be the general theme – but it looks vague in the details, open to interpretation and potential manipulation and basically could be an invitation to corruption …

Could we be seeing the start of another ‘housing led’ wave of discontent?

 

One positive thing, however, as part of the town planning process … according to the city’s Chief Architect … the authorities have identified ‘at least’ 570 sites of historical and cultural significance – about half of them having the status of ‘being of national significance’, whilst the others are designated as being of ‘local importance’ … and he added that, “… the owners of buildings of historical and cultural significance ​​should conduct an annual repair and shouldn’t change their appearance. They are not subject to demolition.”

 

 

 

 

Tags:
Comment closed.