The din of construction equipment echoes from sunrise to sundown in Astana – the cityscape itself remains under construction; commercial, civic, and institutional projects abound. As this Kazakh city evolves, what role should aged places play? In the final decade of the last century, Astana, formerly known as Akmola, Tselinograd, and Akmolinsk, became Kazakhstan’s capital. Thereafter, the Kazakh government, with ambition and revenue generated by natural resource extraction, began the transformation of Akmola, rural backwater that it was, into Astana, a sleek, contemporary urbanscape.
Astana’s residents can shop at luxurious malls, attend sporting events at well-appointed facilities, or play at new entertainment centers – and many do. A Soviet-era amusement park is one of the most lively places in the summer; though it is blighted and dilapidated, it seems beloved. Do you remember having a stuffed animal or a blanket that could not be washed, let alone thrown away? Well, this amusement park is sort of like that. Its value is intrinsic, not derived from a comparison to any other place of amusement. For some residents, as rapid development refashions Astana’s urban fabric, this amusement park is an icon of constancy. It is regarded sentimentally. From a practical perspective, development in other areas of Astana has increased the prices for goods, services, and entertainment. This place from a bygone era offers residents an inexpensive day of recreation and enjoyment.
The popularity of this dated amusement park should remind planners and developers that there is a place for the old and dilapidated in our communities. Development and gentrification generate prosperity for some, beautify neighborhoods, and create opportunities, but the shared history of a community is embodied in places of yesteryear whose character may have meaning for its longtime residents, even if that character possesses an element of blight. These communal relics connect citizens to their forebears – through shared experiences in the case of the Soviet-era amusement park in Astana – and thereby forge a sense of place in the collective mind of the community. Moreover, as foils to new, glossy architecture, they enrich the built environment by creating visual contrast.
Discuss a place in your community this is old but dear. Describe what your community would lose if this place were subjected to the wrecking ball!
Credits: Images by Sunny Menozzi. Data linked to sources.