This article is part of our special report Astana: 20 years of thriving evolution.
The population of Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, is set to double, yet Mayor Asset Issekeshev insists that quality of life and ability to attract visitors will improve in tandem with the influx of people.
Speaking at the opening of the “Cities Mayors Forum of the Silk Road countries”, on 3 July, Issekeshev explained how the capital has changed in recent years.
Astana is one of the leaders in terms of growing population (actually second after Abu Dhabi), with a 242% increase of population between 1998 and 2017 (Abu Dhabi leads with 276%).
The capital now has more than 1 million people. Every year, between 50,000 and100,000 people are drawn to Astana, the mayor said.
In 20 years, the quantity of cars has grown 10 times, the city area has grown threefold, the capacity to build houses has grown 19 times, he added.
The Cities Mayors Forum “Global Silk Road” kicked off in #Astana. The forum brings together mayors, thought leaders & experts to develop regions & cities of the future. The event features speakers from around the globe, incl. the U.S. https://t.co/M1ilohBkrK #SmartCity #Astana20 pic.twitter.com/KJc8YRPCCZ
— Kazakh🇰🇿Embassy DC (@KazakhEmbassy) July 2, 2018
Dubbed Tselinograd during Soviet times, the city was renamed Astana (meaning ‘capital city’ in Kazakh) in 1998 and is now rebranding itself as a go-to venue for international mediation talks.
Kazakhstan is a huge country and is larger than the twelve largest EU countries combined but only has a population of 18 million.
To foreign visitors, the general impression is that the city has developed very fast and is obviously proud with its futuristic buildings, which are a part of a big nation-building effort.
Accordingly, gross regional product in Astana has grown from $341 million to $17.7 billion in 2017 and investments have grown from $256 million in 1997 to $2.9 billion in 2017, of which $600 million is foreign investment.
Over the last 20 years, $47 billion of investment have been made. Ninety percent of investments made last year are not financed by the state budget, the mayor said.
Astana is not a fossil fuel production area and has no big industry, so a lot of attention was given to the development of the small and medium enterprises sector, the mayor said.
SMEs have grown from an output of $1.3 billion in 2005 to $12.6 billion in 2017, constituting 57.5% of regional gross product, Issekeshev added.
Industry has grown from $200 million in 1997 to $1.7 billion in 2017, a result of investment by major international companies, including General Electric and Alstom, and “many others”, the mayor explained.
He stressed that Astana strives to develop as a smart city, and to be one of the 50 most developed and innovative cities in the world, ranking ambitions alongside the likes of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Singapore.
The role of a mayor is to help improve the standards of living of the citizens, Issekeshev said. In this respect, he said that two tracks were followed: raising incomes, and improving the quality of life.
Astana to become more comfortable for its citizens, mayor Asset Issekeshev says. City Mayors Forum of the Silk Road Countries pic.twitter.com/ttadHiS1fT
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) July 3, 2018
He said that regarding quality of life, Astana was working on the UN sustainable goals, as well as on the basis of OECD standards for education, public transport and the urban environment.
It is my pleasure to speak about the benefits of public transport in the framework of the Mayors Forum at the #GlobalSilkRoad event taking place in #Astana: No efficient connections between cities without sustainable transport in the cities @UITPnews pic.twitter.com/HjGf3ih9nG
— Mohamed Mezghani (@MedMezghani) July 3, 2018
Issekeshev said that a three-year programme for improving standards of living was being implemented, including 20 concrete steps to be taken.
But in addition, he said the city authorities were working on a master plan to prepare the city to double its population, to 2 million, by planning roads, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure.
The mayor picked out energy efficient buildings and gasification as sectors to focus on, as well as Astana’s green belt.
The city is located on the steppe where little vegetation grows. But the green belt project aims to plant hardy conifer trees on 86,000 hectares, as well as a variety of other trees along the city’s boulevards and in parks.
Attracting international students is also high on the agenda and pilot projects like “Technopolis” at Nazarbayev University go some way towards that, with a focus on geology, advanced technology and biomedicine.
Astana also has big ambitions to to be one of if not the best centre for international events in Eurasia, with the aim of organising one big event every week, and a total of 50 to 70 each year.
“I think we will be able to attain this goal,” he said.
Regarding digitalisation and e-government, Issekeshev said the city is following the European example “not because it’s fashion” but for the benefit of its citizens.
From what EURACTIV could see, E-services seem to be more widely available and user-friendly in Astana than in Brussels or in most EU cities.
I notice people paying their taxes in Astana in a matter of minutes, more easily than most of us do in the EU pic.twitter.com/I2oMaHvVlO
— Georgi Gotev (@GeorgiGotev) July 3, 2018
Issekeshev also mentioned public security, with the introduction of street cameras with face recognition (a system called Sergek), citing a significant drop in road accident offences, thefts and robberies.
Diplomats insist Astana is a very safe city in terms of petty crime.