Almaty Enthusiasts Unite Authorities, Urban Activists to Make Comfortable Cities

ASTANA – Almaty hosted the first open meeting of the School of City Solutions for activists and entrepreneurs initiated by the City Solutions project and Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design Sept. 8.

Pavel Koktyshev and Ainel Kainazarova,  Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan Public communications coordinator

Pavel Koktyshev and Ainel Kainazarova, Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan Public communications coordinator

The course, consisting of training programme with video presentations, interactive trainings, assignments and business incubator, lasts for a month. The lecture on urban entrepreneurship delivered by co-founder of the Vector Online School and Strelka Institute COO Olga Polischuk was also on the agenda.

The participation is free of charge and 20 people who went through the competitive selection have an opportunity to convert their ideas into reality or implement a project aimed at improving the city’s infrastructure and learn the skills for an entrepreneurial mindset. The project is financially supported by the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan.

No special training or knowledge is needed to join the course. The main things are the curiosity and desire to change for the better the city you live in.

The Astana Times interviewed City Solutions Project founders – head of the MOST Business Incubator Pavel Koktyshev and TOBE Social Foundation head Dana Shayakhmet to learn about the project, its instruments and future ambitions.

in-the-middle-dana-shayakhmet-and-r-pavel-koktyshev

City Solutions is a social initiative for transforming cities for sustainability. The training of urban activists, the creation of expertise database for consulting and analysis of urban changes and organisation of hackathons are expected as part of the project.

“Our project was launched less than a year ago. We have already conducted five events and got a lot of feedback that the project should be continued and expanded. We have a short slogan, ‘The city is for its residents,’ as our ultimate goal is to make small and big cities comfortable for its citizens,” said Koktyshev.

An economist by occupation, Koktyshev started the project in collaboration with designer Shayakhmet who wrote a Master’s thesis on cultural and recreational centres in Almaty.

“We worked together with the public organisations. And, at some point, a year ago, we began to discuss ideas on attracting young people and citizens to initiatives when urban studies became a powerful trend. Thirst to promote people who are doing projects, and through these projects to solve civic issues in a productive and constructive format united us with Dana,” he added.

City Solutions is a response to the global trend of urban growth. Urban planning is no longer a purely urban or architectural prerogative as this is a multidisciplinary event.

“We believe that the specialists from different spheres and municipal authorities together can begin co-operation to address urban issues,” Koktyshev explained their activities. “The innovative solutions are born at the intersection of disciplines. What is an innovative solution? It is cheap, practical and effective one. We hold hackathons to develop effective solutions to some problems. The point is to get a nontrivial solution, which can be implemented without grandiose costs. For example, we talked about the safety of yards and offered the participants to sit in wheelchairs. They coped with prejudice and understood how people with physical challenges feel in a limited mobility. They were able to come up with good ideas. An idea to install lockers in the hallways to leave the strollers and bicycles on the ground floor came at the hackathon.”

According to Shayakhmet, the idea of City Solutions initiative is to form a critical mass of people who are doing something to make their city more comfortable.

“Urban planning today in Kazakhstan is something we strongly need to start thinking about. Migration to big cities has created a lot of issues that citizens are facing today. Ecology, neighborhoodship, waste management, water use, construction, roads and infrastructure are only some of those issues. Citizens are the ones who can start the change on their own. There are so many solutions that they can offer,” she added.

There is often a vicious circle in addressing urban issues as the residents believe that the city administration does not do anything, the city administration refers to a limited budget.

“We do not identify what is right or wrong. New technologies in design-thinking help identify the best solutions. We deal with the city authorities to choose the problem and involve our members in the process of eliminating this inconvenience. Interactive is the first step. Any idea should be continued and put into practice. If you look at the ideas that have emerged at the hackathons, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The participants come and generate ideas within two or three hours. Then, the experts in our analytical group work for more detailed solutions, and they go to another level,” Koktyshev said.

Today, entrepreneurship is one of the main tools of city transformation by people themselves. Business is also a way to create useful projects that make the lives of others more interesting or convenient. It refers to commercial and non-commercial projects, initiatives and business companies. For example, shoe repair store, bike rental, an app to search for restaurants, summer festivals, charity events, a coffee shop or car wash – all these projects aimed to find a way. The main thing is to know where and for whom you start your business and what people need, he said.

“For more efficient work, trainings are scheduled in three cities Astana, Almaty and Taldykorgan. Of course, we have a plan to continue the project and conduct sessions in other cities, too. It is important to us not just to create a one-time event, but to work properly, adjust and implement all the ideas and projects,” he said.