Mapping Ulaanbaatar’s Ger Districts
October 23, 2013
Mongolia is now one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and nowhere is this growth more evident than the bustling and energetic capital, Ulaanbaatar. Expensive high rises, luxury stores, and modern apartment buildings are common in this city of 1.5 million; tower cranes dot the rising skyline, harbingers of even more cutting-edge development projects to come. But in the shadows of the cranes and high rises, are the city’s ger districts, where more than half of the capital’s residents live without access to basic public services like water, sewage systems, and central heating.
In 1989, 26.8 percent of Mongolia’s population lived in Ulaanbaatar; by 2006 that number had risen to 38.1 percent; and by the 2010 census, 45 percent of Mongolia’s population lived in the capital. Looking forward, population growth in the capital is expected to continue at the same pace, and with little affordable housing available, most of the newcomers ultimately settle in the ger areas.
Dealing with the ramifications of such large settlements in unplanned locations and effectively delivering services to all the city’s residents, particularly in Mongolia’s extreme weather conditions, is a massive challenge. Given the fluid nature of the areas, and the very limited data on demographics and availability of services for the neighborhoods, or khoroos, citizens’ participation in decision-making and planning has been limited. In addition those managing the city have faced significant information deficits when making decisions on how to invest their limited public resources.
Working together with activists and kheseg (local) leaders, the mayor’s office and The Asia Foundation have partnered to map each and every khoroo in the ger areas, and then used that data to carry out spatial analysis to identify service levels and gaps in accessibility and coverage of public services. Using eight indicators, the maps measure the availability and accessibility of services in five sectors: water, health, education, transportation, and safety. The data collected by the local leaders is plotted onto local maps that can be used by citizens and city officials. The mapping process is also designed to activate local citizens and leaders to engage in discussions of the availability of public services in their communities, and to form clear ideas for the prioritization of resources and investment by the city and the community members.
The process started in 2012 as a pilot project in 11 khoroos, but at the Ulaanbaatar mayor’s request, the Foundation and city municipality extended the project to cover all 87 khoroos of the Ulaanbaatar ger area. Last week, the mayor’s office and The Asia Foundation presented the results and analysis of their joint community mapping initiative to officials from the City Municipality.
Feedback on the results was positive. Mr. Bat-Uul, the capital city governor and the mayor of Ulaanbaatar, said that, “previously all decisions were made based on statistics. However, statistics are not ‘live’ numbers; they may not always reflect the reality. Now we have community-made maps, which clearly show us where schools and kindergartens are located, where we need additional water kiosks, and what the optimal locations are for infrastructure development across the city.”
Ulaanbaatar’s city manager, Mr. Badral, reiterated the importance of community mapping for future budget discussions and city planning, saying that “the mapping process should continue, given its positive implications not only for the community, but also for decision-makers.”
The mapping process turned out to be a useful process for community members as well: they may know about their gudamj, or street, they may know where the nearest shops or water kiosks are, but they may not know much about their entire khoroo area. After seeing this information on a map, many people discover the bigger picture and start to make comparisons between advantages and disadvantages of neighboring khesegs or khoroos. These maps are helping ger residents to understand how their community relates to the wider surrounding environment and to build stronger community relationships in their neighborhoods, where they often live close together, share common goods, and need to work toward the community’s well-being as a group.
The results and analysis of the community mapping process will be used in discussions of the city’s five-year investment plan, as well as the parliamentary budget sessions for 2014. It will be the first time that spatial analysis is used as a basis for the political level budgetary discussions. We are also supporting the city on a new website, which will be launched soon as an online resource with community maps available to citizens. The site will serve as a database for Ulaanbaatar city officials to update the maps and track progress over time. The Foundation will also support the city to make community mapping a sustainable tool through training and planning for regular updates of information as well as through further discussions on the strategic use of the data generated by the maps.
Since May 2012, The Asia Foundation has been implementing the Urban Services Project for the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar (USP) project as part of its Strategic Partnership with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).
Ariunaa Norovsambuu is an Asia Foundation project coordinator and Munkhtsetseg Ulziikhutag and Enkhtungalag Chuluunbaatar are project officers for the Foundation’s USP project in Mongolia. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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