Astana is becoming a real, full-fledged metropolis. Even the most ardent opponents of the transfer of the capital of Kazakhstan from north to south can no longer deny this objective fact. Residential and office buildings are constructed, the infrastructure of the city has improved, its population is growing. According to the most conservative estimates, 900,000 people currently live in Astana. The capital actively grows with suburban sprawls. But, not even 20 years have passed yet since this provincial town changed its name and status.
The former Akmola and earlier Tselinograd became Astana on the eve of its presentation. In December 1997 the solemn transfer of state symbols occurred, and in June 1998 the city was officially presented. However, the solemnity still had a provincial flavor. Particularly there was nothing to celebrate, and there were no places for such celebration.
During subsequent years the capital gradually gained its unique architectural appearance. Being at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, having absorbed the culture of the West and East, and maintaining a balance between them, Astana has become a unique city, the only one of its kind.
“The West has great technology, without which our life today is impossible. But there is also art and culture. They need to be developed,” – well-known Malaysian architect Hidzhas bin Kasturi advised in due time the Kazakh city planners – “Create your own brands and fashion. Try to find inspiration in architecture and follow it.”
EAST – WEST
And a few years later, after the active construction of the Left Bank of the Ishim in Astana there appeared modern high-rise apartment buildings, plazas, boulevards and shopping malls. Of course, the main initiator of large-scale construction was Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, the leader of the nation. He personally came up with the idea of the “Khan Shatyr” complex, as well as of the “Baiterek” Tower, which deservedly became the official symbol of the new capital. Architect Akmurza Rustembekov turned the project into reality. Rustembekov won numerous awards for this work at international competitions. And the International Association of Unions of Architects awarded its Grand Prize to the “Astana – Baiterek” monument, as the best design and construction project in 2002 among the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
It was at the initiative of the president that leading names of world architecture such as Kisho Kurokawa and Norman Foster visited Astana. The Japanese guest rightly became the author of the Astana city layout plan. He managed to combine Western progress with Eastern philosophy.
The symbiosis has turned out to be quite successful. The administrative center, consisting mainly of Western-style buildings, was organically linked with the pedestrian Water-green Boulevard featuring fountains, flower beds, walkways and sculptures in the traditional style.
English architect Norman Foster is also known to almost everyone in Astana for designing the Astana Pyramid – the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation – but also the “Khan Shatyr” tent, an architectural jewel that is among the top ten best green buildings, according to Forbes Style.
The list of exclusive administrative and public buildings is rounded off by cultural and sports facilities. Thus, the Astana Opera and Ballet Theatre that was recently erected is the third largest opera theatre in the world. It was built by master architects from Europe. The theater with unique acoustics created with the latest technology allows performances of any complexity.
The achievements of the new Kazakh capital have not gone unnoticed. Last October, Astana entered the international competitive selection for the title of “smart city”, finishing on 21st place among 300 candidates and going into the semifinals. There were many selection criteria, from transport logistics and infrastructure to safety, environmental compatibility, access to medical care and so on. Global giants such as Stockholm, Toronto and Taipei were Astana’s rivals in this competition. Experts predict that if all the projects of the EXPO-2017 event that will be hosted by Astana in two years’ time will be fulfilled on schedule, Astana will have a chance to be among the top 7 places in these rankings.
LET THERE BE PEACE!
Gradually, step by step, the capital is being converted into a unique multi-vectored center of the region and this is recognized even at international level. Almost every original building of the Left Bank has a history inextricably linked with the history of the city.
Thus the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation appeared on the day of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, a unique event in itself and giving an opportunity for dialogue between representatives of different faiths. The Asian Winter Games of 2011 expanded the track record of Astana with modern sports facilities and stadiums, the “star” being the Alau Ice Palace, a modern multifunctional sports center designed for speed skating competitions. The upcoming EXPO 2017 event with its environmentally-friendly facilities, parks and squares shall be another powerful impetus for the development of the city.
Astana has repeatedly captured the world’s attention. A multi-vector policy pursued by the leader, cooperation with international organizations, such as UN and OSCE, and the state’s peacekeeping position on the world stage, allow the capital of Kazakhstan to become a place of negotiations for the conclusion of transactions, settlement of disputes and reconciliation of warring parties. After becoming a member of the OSCE in 1992, Kazakhstan took over its presidency in 2010. The final summit, held in December at the Palace of Independence ended with the signing of the famous Astana Declaration, addressing a number of important issues and problems.
Today Astana is also called the cradle of modern Eurasian integration. It was exactly the President of Kazakhstan who expressed for the first time, in 1994, the idea of creating a new association, and not coincidentally, in May 2014, precisely in Astana, the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia signed the Agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union.
Now Astana will be used for negotiations and possible reconciliation between the warring sides in Syria. In the future, the members of the Minsk peace process aimed at resolving the problems of Ukraine will relocate to the Kazakh capital.
KAZAKHSTAN’S NEW GOALS
According to the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, it took a lot of years to elevate a new city to a worthy level. Astana became Astana City.
“At present, the capital accounts for the greatest volume of investment per capita,” said Nursultan Nazarbayev. “Astana’s contribution to the country’s economy is growing every year. Today, the capital is the pride of all Kazakhstanis, it delights our visitors. The city has become a real administrative, cultural, business, educational and medical center of our country.”
If we talk about existing socio-economic indicators, the dynamics of Astana’s development can only impress. The budget of the city has recently exceeded the amount of 350 billion Tenge, and at least a third of this money goes to the social sector. The gross regional product grows, the building figures amount to nearly 20 percent, the number of business representatives is multiplying – already 64 thousand people have the status of businessmen in Astana.
But it is not yet time to be satisfied with what has already been achieved, and nobody is going to do so. Not long ago, the Kazakh leader announced a further program for the development of Astana and Kazakhstan as a whole. Its implementation should put the country among the top 30 developed countries of the world.
“The plan lays out radical changes in society and the state, their main goal being the tackling of systemic disease rather than the smoothing of symptoms,” said Nazarbayev.
The plan includes five institutional reforms. Namely the formation of a professional state apparatus, supremacy of statute law, industrialization and economic growth of the country, the identity and unity of the nation, and ultimately the formation of a state accountable to society.