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Improving Urban Services in Ulaanbaatar

June 17, 2015

By Amarzaya Naran, Ariunaa Norovsambuu, Gantulga Ganbaatar, Munkhtsetseg Ulziikhutag, Tirza Theunissen

After three years of work to improve services in Ulaanbaatar’s ger districts and introduce a more inclusive style of urban governance to the City Municipality, more than eighty project stakeholders gathered for a June 12 workshop in the City to look back and reflect. The workshop drew representatives from the Capital City Governor’s Office, the Mayor’s Office, districts and khoroos (neighborhoods), the private sector, and citizen groups and civil society organizations to discuss program results and lessons learned from the Urban Services in the Ger Districts of Ulaanbaatar project, a partnership with The Asia Foundation, generously supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The three-year urban services project formed the basis for a broader collaboration with the City Municipality to improve governance and transparency, promote economic development, and recently also to foster green growth.

Using DigitalGlobe satellite imagery to trace residential roads in the Bayanzurk district into OpenStreetMap.

Using DigitalGlobe satellite imagery to trace residential roads in the Bayanzurk district into OpenStreetMap.

The project first tackled the problem of inadequate service delivery by promoting evidence-based and participatory planning and decision-making. In an innovative community mapping initiative, the Foundation partnered with the City Municipality and ger area residents to map the availability and accessibility of basic services in 87 khoroos based on 11 indicators, and to develop a community mapping website,, where the maps can be accessed by citizens and city officials as an advocacy and planning tool. The City Municipality subsequently expanded the community mapping to the cover the entire City.

According to Ms. Enkhtsetseg, head of the Administration and Finance Department of the Mayor’s Office, the maps have changed the way the City plans infrastructure investments, from a top-down to a bottom-up approach, enabling the City to prioritize investments in services, such as kindergartens, where they are needed, and to target areas that are most in need of new infrastructure. As a result of the community mapping, says Mr. Gerelchuluun Yo., head of the Governor’s Office, formerly passive citizens have become much more active in demanding urban governance reforms. This week, the Foundation will provide the City with high-resolution aerial imagery, which will be released on Open Street Map – a free, online, Wikipedia-like map of the world created by 1.6 million contributors. The new image data will strengthen the community mapping project by providing a more complete and accurate online map of Ulaanbaatar that citizens can use to map infrastructure and services.

The community mapping of illegal dumpsites led to the search for a comprehensive solution to the stubborn problem of solid waste management in the ger areas. The City Municipality and the Foundation took a flexible, iterative approach to the problem, launching a “model khoroo” project in which possible solid waste management solutions could be piloted on a small scale involving citizens, local waste collection companies, and district and khoroo officials. Through a testing-and-demonstration logic, lessons learned at the micro level were used to devise large-scale reforms. According to Ms. Otgonbayar, head of the khoroo governor’s working group of one of the neighborhoods in Khan-Uul District, the twice-a-month collection schedule piloted in the model khoroo not only has improved collection, but has led to a reduction of illegal dumping, allowing old dump sites to be transformed into playgrounds and community gardens.

The culmination of the long, collaborative effort of the Ulaanbaatar City Municipality and the Foundation to achieve comprehensive solid waste management reform was the May 18 adoption of an amended regulation on solid waste collection, transportation, financing, and fee collection by the City Khural Presidium. The Public Services Department of the Mayor’s Office presented the new regulation, developed jointly with the Foundation, at the June 12 workshop. It sets minimum service standards, creates stronger monitoring and evaluation systems, and requires new contracts with all solid waste companies based on rigorous performance reviews.

The project also supported broader governance reform to improve service delivery, including assisting the Governor’s Office in developing two model city charters for the newly established satellite cities of Baganuur and Nalaikh. The model city charters clarify roles and responsibilities for service delivery while improving accountability and increasing citizen participation. The charters for the first time allow for the direct election of mayors, and the City Municipality plans to further devolve certain service-delivery functions from the district to the khoroo level while increasing citizen participation in the decision-making process.

In her remarks to the workshop, Asia Foundation Country Representative Meloney C. Lindberg reflected on the importance of the close working relationship between the Foundation and the City Municipality in yielding tangible results, and workshop participants voiced strong support for continuing the partnership. “As a result of activities such as community mapping,” said Mr. Otgonbaatar, the head of the Project and Cooperation Department of the Governor’s Office, “Ulaanbaatar City Municipality has become a leader among Asian cities in improving urban governance.”

Munkhtsetseg Ulziikhutag and Gantulga Ganbaatar are urban services program officers, Amarzaya Naran is urban services/governance consultant, Ariunaa Norovsambuu is urban services program coordinator, and Tirza Theunissen is the deputy country representative for The Asia Foundation in Mongolia. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Mongolia
Related programs: Good Governance
Related topics: Urban Services


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