Samarkand is the first city in Uzbekistan to join the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Green Cities programme. Preparations for a Green City Action Plan (GCAP) have already begun, with stakeholder engagement workshops now underway. However, Samarkand residents are concerned that a strategic general urban plan has not been put in place to ensure the GCAP recommendations are implemented.
Anastasia Pavlenko, Samarkandskiy Vestnik (Uzbekistan), Michaela Kožmínová, Bankwatch | 25 January 2024
Photo by Anastasia Pavlenko
In November 2023, the second in a series of stakeholder engagement workshops was held in Samarkand as part of preparations for the GCAP. The two main questions on the agenda: How do people see Samarkand in 20 years? And what goals should the plan achieve? The workshop saw EBRD representatives, government departments, universities, civil society organisations and the media come together to discuss and exchange their views on the project.
Samarkand has the chance to lead by example
In his opening remarks, Nozir Ibragimov, assistant to Samarkand’s governor on local industrial development, emphasised Samarkand’s international importance. He referred to the city’s rapid development as a ‘tourist gateway to the new Uzbekistan’, which has recently hosted global leaders on prominent state visits.
‘Samarkand serves as an important bridge for world civilizations. The authorities of this region and, of course, its residents are dedicated to ensuring that the city, with its rich ancient history, is a liveable city that attracts investment projects in order to develop its social, transport and utility infrastructure and build a sustainable economy,’ said Ibragimov.
According to Hiroyuki Ito, co-ordinator of the EBRD’s Green Cities Action Plan, these workshops help to translate the results of monitoring at the local level into the goals of the Action Plan. He stressed the importance of involving all interested parties to help them claim ownership of the plan:
‘We want to see Samarkand become a leading city in the field of environmental protection while prioritising socio-economic inclusion as part of its development, thus serving us a successful model for other cities in the country.’
Samarkand might be the first EBRD Green City in Uzbekistan, but there are more than 50 cities of its kind around the world. Ever since the Green Cities project was first launched in 2016, several GCAPs have been implemented. However, their execution in cities such as Yerevan and Tbilisi has left a lot to be desired. Samarkand should take note.
Human rights and the environment top the list
Participants at the workshop shared their visions for the city’s future and listed priority issues that the Green City Action Plan should address. For example, activists from non-governmental organisations Ezgulik, Zarafshan, Hayot and Save Samarkand stressed the need to uphold human rights and laws, promote sustainable development, preserve the city’s historical heritage, create conditions for a green and liveable environment, and improve the well-being of its residents.
After months in the works, a group of consultants led by Aecom and IKS Consulting recently presented their technical report to the local authorities. The report, which was discussed at the workshop, contains data on seven sectors and 110 indicators; for instance, PM10 particles are proposed as a key indicator of air quality. The authors expressed their concern that decisions made in relation to the GCAP and its targets for each sector are largely dependent on the accuracy of the data available, which can often prove challenging to gather.
Anvar Nasritdinov, operational manager of Samarkand’s GCAP, explains the process: ‘To obtain data on each indicator, we contact the relevant authorities such as the Hydrometeorological Service of Uzbekistan. We compare the indicators with publicly available data from open sources. If they match or are close, we add them to our database. But when discrepancies arise, we ask for an explanation and then seek out more reliable data.’
The GCAP needs to be part of an integrated approach
According to Nasritdinov, the plan will be the property and responsibility of either the city or the Samarkand region: ‘The document will be adopted by the authorities tasked with implementing it. This means it won’t become just another report that gets shelved. In our experience, in all cities where we develop the GCAP, it’s accepted as an official binding document.’ However, Samarkand residents and activists warned that this cannot be taken for granted.
According to the EBRD Green Cities website, the development of Samarkand’s GCAP will contribute to ‘Uzbekistan’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2050’. However, it’s hard to reconcile the financing of the GCAP’s environmental ambitions with the fact that each winter almost all of Samarkand’s educational and healthcare institutions, including hospitals, schools and preschools, still run on coal heating.
A long-standing problem of the ancient city is the failure to adopt a general urban plan to guide its strategic development, a topic that has been regularly discussed in the media since 2018. Yet, Uzbekistan’s Cabinet of Ministers has still not given its approval.
Without a general urban plan in place that lays out the city’s long-term development objectives, the opportunities for Samarkand’s GCAP to falter increase. That’s why having a general urban plan in place is important because it ensures the integration of all urban systems. Samarkand’s GCAP has no such plan to consult. Inevitably, this casts doubt on whether the timelines and geographical contexts for the projects proposed are viable.
Saša Jovanovic, Cities campaign leader at Bankwatch, urges caution:
‘Unfortunately, in many cities today, some of which are also EBRD Green Cities, we see a situation where new general urban plans are being delayed for long periods of time. This results in development running ahead of the strategic framework, which often favours private rather than public interests.’
Without a holistic, strategic planning document that aligns with Uzbekistan’s planning and development laws, there’s a real risk that the GCAP will end up as a vague set of guidelines that never gets implemented.
Now that these concerns have been brought to the attention of the EBRD’s representatives, it’s up to them to make sure Samarkand’s GCAP becomes a truly integrated document that brings about real change.
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Theme: Green cities