#CitiesandPeople2017 in Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan

Team Better Block was invited to Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan to participate and kick off a lecture series called Cities and People 2017, an educational program by Urban Forum Almaty.  The purpose of the “Cities and People” program continues the cooperation of Urban Forum Almaty with the US Consulate General in Almaty, which was established in 2015.  During 2017, 10 influential American experts in the field of urban policy will arrive in Kazakhstan to conduct lectures, master classes and seminars in Almaty, Astana, Shymkent and Semey.
Architects, sociologists, artists, activists and researchers are invited from different parts of the United States to share their knowledge, experience in solving problems in modern cities and inspiration.  Events will be held at different venues for different audiences. The events will include public lectures, as well as specialized master classes for industry professionals, activists and officials.

We arrived in Almaty first, where we were given some time to adjust to the 35 hour trip!  After meeting with Nastia and Asel, our hosts for the week from UFA, we had the opportunity to meet with local forum members who presented their projects to us in a local park where a stage had been constructed by neighbors wanting to program the park with local events.  We were introduced to three projects by local advocates.  One that was quite inspiring is called Sports Concepts where a father decided that he wanted a place for his son to learn to play ice hockey.  There were no good local ice rinks, so he DIY’d a rink in some public space in the court yard of his apartment complex.  Over the next several years, it became a professionally built rink where teams now practice and compete from different neighborhoods in the city.  Since he’s started, over 20 more rinks have been constructed in Almaty, with over 150 potential spaces identified to continue building.  We hope to try his approach at an upcoming Winter Better Block in a cold climate city soon!  Another project wanted to make sure government websites provided factual and informative information to it’s citizens, so hours of checking links and creating contacts with officials helped to created better, more reliable information for everyone.  Finally, we hear from a group creating an ecological community and rehabilitation of the lake and river in the Karasu micro-district, Alatau district, Almaty, which will restore the Karasu lake and the river flowing into it.

Urban Forum Almaty attendees for our first of two presentations for their Cities and People 2017 lecture series

In the evening, Andrew Howard, Principal of Team Better Block, lead an interactive presentation on the roof top of a local office building where a hostel operated.  The weather was quite nice and the stunning view of the rest of the city and mountains in the background created an optimal stage for the presentation.  Turnout was higher than expected and people came ready to take part in a lively discussion.  “The global trend of cities for people is alive and well in Kazakhstan. People are wanting to be not just users of cities, but creators of them. Projects by citizens to enliven alleys and public spaces in Almaty are inspiring and should be further supported as a tool to retain and attract people”, says Andrew Howard, Principal of Team Better Block.  One particular participant, a young grandmother has been trying to provide physical activities for way-fair teenagers needing some structure.  She’s been met with resistance for some reason!  But was encouraged and will continue to lead her supporters in this endeavor.

We departed for the new capital city of Astana to the north, some 400 miles away and near the Russian border.  Only in the last 30 years or less, Astana has been made the capital of Kazakhstan, and world architects haven been given carte blanc to creating their own wildest building designs.  Somewhere though, someone forgot about the people and the scale has been left to run wild.  We did venture out a bit and walked along a pedestrian mall to an indoor mall.  Recent place making activities for the 2017 Expo still remained and were fun to interact with, however the distance was long and seemed unnecessary.
In the evening, our lecture took place in the central planning building for the entire city where we saw a full scale model and master plan of the city.  We were in the lions den of planning!  The crowd again was lively and were a joy to speak with.  “Participants in our lecture in Astana voiced the need to retrofit the city for people. The scale of the city is not suited for people at the human scale. To fix it hundreds of small interventions from street cafes to climate controlled cycle tracks should be investigated. The budget for retrofit should be in the billions and attacked immediately before the city is left in the auto-oriented past”, says Andrew Howard.
In summary, it was a pleasure and honor to be invited to Kazakhstan and we hope to return to do a project in the near future.  The former Soviet cities did leave the proper scale and public places to retrofit new urban planning and place making designs to fit into the human scale.  We’re inspired by the small, but growing group of Kazakhstanians that are willing to lead and do projects that are meaningful and have purpose.
Related Documents
Almaty, Kazakhstan

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Astana, Kazakhstan

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