New development models and new urban ecosystems for large expanding cities

Ulaanbaatar, a Lab for sustainable urban renewal

P. Pineschi Aka Architetti, Domitilla Morandi
The territory of Mongolia is three times more extended than France and it is vast and uncontaminated; the density of the population is the lowest in the world and beyond  its capital city and a few other small towns, the rest of the country is occupied by small conglomerates of scattered houses and steppes. Today, the Mongols still live in small family communities formed of one or two “GER”, the typical felt tents enabling them to move with the herds. In the last few years, the country has experienced a strong urbanization and nowadays, 58% of the inhabitants live in urban centers. The main centre is Ulaan Batar, the capital city and the economic centre of the country, where, by now, 38% of  Mongolian population is concentrated. In a few years, in response to the big exodus from rural areas,  construction has greatly increased in urban areas without following any urban development plan. In Ulaan Batar, new skyscrapers coexist with the “yurte” (or “ger”), with Soviet style buildings from the 40s, with buildings in reinforced concrete of later years: the attractive power of the city and the lack of dwellings has brought about a huge aggregation of gers, where at least six-hundred thousands of people live, out of the city center.

Moreover, Mongolia is a country still lacking in infrastructures. An organized road network does not exist, communication routes are nothing but trails or simple tracks dug by passing vehicles. The fast urbanization process has been accompanied by new forms of destitution and alienation. The urban model  is by now the objective for the greatest part of the population and constantly generates new requests with regards to quality of life, social organization and sustainable management of the resources of this community.

Furthermore, the capital city has a big problem of atmospheric pollution caused by wood and charcoal combustion  from heating and cooking stoves. During the winter months, the normal urban view is dim an this has a negative impact on human health and on life in general. Given the rapid development, it is necessary, on the one hand, to build houses to accommodate the flux of aspiring city dwellers, on the other, to contrast it with  an urban policy operating in entire parts of the city. This policy should entail the  transformation/regeneration of a few portions  of the urban fabric, within a global idea of development which may trigger  economic, social and cultural regeneration.


To this end  and in the light of what has emerged in the field of the European policies of the last two decades, the so-called “place-based” approach is to be reinforced, thus responding to the specific needs of the territory more adequately, through an accurate analysis of the city requirements. Furthermore, It is also necessary to recognize the interdependence between territories, by strengthening the role of local and regional agents in territorial policies.


1.1     A Lab for sustainable renewal

Mongolia underwent a strong urbanization in the last few years and today  58% of the inhabitants live in urban centers. In a few years, construction has strongly increased in urban areas, in response  to the need of accommodating the big exodus from rural areas. The main city and the main economic center  is Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, hosting 38% of the total population of the country. Mongolia is also the world second most polluted country and as such no project can overlook this data.

In 2012 Mongolia was the first country to create  a “ministerial portfolio for “green development”, which enabled the protection of land and water, putting a moratorium on new mining exploration licenses. The wind farm of Salkhit Uul, also known as “Windy Mountain”, was inaugurated on World Environment Day.

Examples like Mongolia lead to believe that  sustainable development is possible and profitable for those who decide to carry out an environment-friendly territorial planning. The “green” approach also characterizes the policy papers of the country, like in the 2012 report ” Mongolia’s sustainable development agenda: progresses, bottlenecks and vision for the future” in  which it is explicitly declared:

“Natural resources and environmental management need to be enhanced in coherence with the green economy concept in all sectors along with creation of a responsible body in line ministries. It should be discouraged for state administrations to make decisions on any sector wise issues without involving this body. The same applies for international cooperation.”

Obviously in light of the above, the 2010 World Bank study “Enhancing Policies and Practices for Ger Area Development in Ulaanbaatar” and the 2020 Masterplan,  other fundamental elements emerge which deserve a particular attention during the interventions on the city, such as:

  1. Access roads within Ger areas: The majority of the residents in Ger areas are lower-income and are further disadvantaged by very poor access to markets, work places, education and other services.
  2. Better heating systems to improve efficiency and reduce air pollution.
  3. Solid waste management and community infrastructure
  4. Research on affordable collective housing in mid-tier Gers
  5. From a monocentric city to a multi-centric, modern city.


1.2     Urban Agenda and methodology approaches

It is on these principles that the design activity of the work group has started to concentrate by collecting data, involving diverse disciplinary fields and putting the urban space at the core of research: the city as the driving force for development-a place of centrality, opportunities and challenges.

The proposed methodology approach is based on the following themes and strategies such as:

  • The composition of the aspects structuring the territorial projects in full accordance with the planning instruments in action and the development policies (Urban Agenda)
  • The composition of urban projects (smart city, etc.) through the selection of models of land use and occupation, sustainable and consistent with places and local resources.
  • The need for qualifying projects for the city and for human life (houses, green spaces, public spaces, etc) through the planning of new polarities, new urban spaces and new communication networks.
  • A particular attention to the environment in urban and territorial planning, through the set-up of ecological networks and the redefinition (redesigning) of an appropriate relationship between the country and the city
  • The quality of architecture as a key objective on which the choices should be based and the new image and form of the city should be planned
  • The internal relationships within the city: residence, work, leisure, public space. Triggering requalification processes of suburban areas by redesigning the urban boundaries.
  • The house in relation to tradition, rediscovering modes and uses of everyday life to develop new housing typologies.
  • The” places of identity”-culture, tradition, religion, arts and music

2     New urbanization and infrastructure

2.1     Masterplan Main Targets

  • Ulaanbaatar will be a safe, healthy and green city that is resilient to climate change
  • Ulaanbaatar will provide a livable environment for its residents through appropriat land use planning, infrastructure and housing.
  • Ulaanbaatar will be a city with good governance and adeveloped legal environment that serves the general public and private sector.
  • Ulaanbaatar will encourage the further development of seelements,
  • towns and satellite cities outside the city center.
  • Ulaanbaatar will be one of Asia’s tourist destination cities
  • Ulaanbaatar will have an internationally competitive business center and develop as a world-standard capital city.
  • From a monocentric city to a multicentric, modern city. City parks and green areas
  • Improve and extend the road and public transport network. Transport – Oriented Development
  • Strategy for redevelopment of ger areas: new residential areas will be suitable for mongolian culture and traditions and include a range of affordable apartment types that meet high quality livings Standards
  • Urban water cycle: quality & quantity of water distribution, access and usage

2.1     Starting points for the project in the Khoroo 1 of the Songino Khairkhan District in Ulambaatar

Ulaanbaatar is served by the ChinggisKhaan International Airport it’s 18 km southwest of the city. There are rail connections to the Trans-Siberian railway via Naushki and to the Chinese railway system via Jining. This rail route has one line, and starts at the west side of the capital at the Tolgoit Station, in Khoroo 1, through the city centre to the east side of the city terminating at the Amgalan Station. There are a total of eight stations on the route.

Ulaanbaatar is connected by road to most of the major towns in Mongolia, but most roads in Mongolia are unpaved and unmarked and road travel can be difficult. Even within the city, not all roads are paved and some of the ones that are paved are not in good condition. The redevelopment of the ger areas will take a partnership approach between the government, private developers and citizens, to do the following:

– Implement urbanization, proper land use, and re-planning activities with direct partecipation of land


– Develop sub and micro centers in the ger areas.

– Eliminate environmental pollution and its impacts by implementing waste minimization technology.

– Support opportunities for family businesses and entrepreneurship.

– New residential areas will be suitable for Mongolian culture and traditions and include a range of affordable apartment types that meet high quality living standards

The intention is to encourage an equitable model of development, that can foster at the same time big works and a widespread urban renovation.

The large-scale urban plan coexists with district-scale projects to rethink public spaces, create new opportunities and reconstruct the system of relations within the city.

Investments and resources are not only concentrated on single interventions, as the benefits are extended to larger areas, triggering citywide processes to contrast marginalization and involve in the transformation a large part of the population.


2.2     The conceptual scheme: the “comet” urban structure

The conceptual scheme chosen for building new residential units and for triggering processes of urban regeneration is represented by a principle defined as a  “comet”, namely an urban structure formed of a nucleus hosting the big economic and functional representatives with large buildings- a surrounding area devoted to demolition and reconstruction, to recovery and urban regeneration- and a green trail with a high environmental quality, characterized by the presence of territorial services in support of the inhabitants and of the Ger settlements.

This scheme permits to link different urban areas in a well-structured system, oriented both to the creation of new economic districts and to the research of a balance with the ecological resources and the suburban settlements.

This is an innovative approach based on the will to create a deep exchange and a new bond between the densely-constructed contexts of the city and the low-density rural space, assuming the possibility to concentrate the building process in some highly-accessible areas and reconnecting the scattered  constructed lots through the great networks of services and the wide areas of redeveloped territories.

diagram COMET

3     Conclusion

The scopes of intervention, with regards to Mongolian reality, correspond to the possibility of taking an active part in the process of urban regeneration, by affirming responsible and sustainable development models. The contribution of a multidisciplinary group with a particular experience in wide-ranging projects, in the dynamics of urban transformation, in  great infrastructural projects and in urban regeneration can be a precious support in the different phases of urban development planning-from decision-making and strategic  aspects to  practical implementation, to  the scale of urban design projects.

In particular, specific planning actions could focus on the most important critical issues in the territory such as the lack of services and infrastructures, the development of new urban contexts and the construction of residential contexts,  preserving a strong  physical, functional and identity bond with historical characters and local culture.