October 23 2013

Dear, Old, Dilapidated Places: Communal Relics that Connect Citizens

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 Enjoy an Old Amsuement Park

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.

A dear, old, and dilapidated amusement park, Astana

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.

Sunny Menozzi

Sunny Menozzi's military duties have taken her to diverse and exciting places, from Singapore to Arizona, South Korea to Afghanistan, and North Carolina to Hawaii. Sunny's travels inspired her interest in cities, especially how they function, the impact of the built environment on the residents, the methods planners employ to shape natural features, and the vibrancy that can be cultivated by good planning and design. She will begin her pursuit of a master's degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the fall of 2013. Sunny plans to focus on reuse and historic preservation, community-building, and economic and environmental sustainability. She hopes to contribute to projects that repurpose military bases. An avid runner, Sunny is interested in the design of recreational trails and policies that encourage the development of walkable communities. She holds a B.S. in International Relations and Russian from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 at 9:15 am and is filed under Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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