Astana is ready for EXPO 2017, Mayor says

ASTANA – These days, Astana is probably the busiest and most sleepless city in Central Asia. In an exclusive interview with The Astana Times, Akim (Mayor) of Astana Asset Issekeshev talks about the most relevant issues for the capital, the development of the transport system, the attraction of investments and, of course, the city’s preparedness for the highly anticipated EXPO 2017 to be held under the theme of Future Energy.

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Asset Issekeshev

There is very little time left before the opening of EXPO 2017. Is the city ready for the anticipated event? Is everything going according to plan?

The akimat (city administration) has established a special headquarters for preparing the city for EXPO. All activities are conducted in accordance with the deadlines. All the services of the city are working in an amplified mode. In general, the city is ready to receive and accommodate more than 2 million tourists from within Kazakhstan and abroad.

There are sufficient rooms to accommodate all the guests in the amount of the 35,000 people expected to arrive at hotels and apartments. A reservation department was established and 10 regions have already reserved rooms for their delegations. Eighteen residence halls will accommodate 40,000 students from the regions. Accommodations will also be provided for seconded employees of law enforcement agencies and volunteers.

For the comfortable stay of foreign tourists, online registration was introduced directly in hotels.

According to the application dossier, on the day of the maximum peak load, 110,000 seats are required. There are 273 restaurants in the city with 80,000 seats, 460 cafes with 23,000 seats and 27 canteens with 3,000 seats. Today, 850 food points provide 116,000 seats, with emphasis on different cuisines.

All issues of the city’s food security have been resolved.

We expect growth of food consumption by 20-30 percent – up to 160,000 tonnes for three months.

The storage capacity in the city is sufficient.

The schedule of fairs and deliveries of products from Central Asia has been approved. For more than 30 products that are under the risk of deficit and appreciation, we have developed a special programme together with trading enterprises and banks in order to stabilise them.

A detailed programme of cultural and sporting events was formed. All 93 exhibition days have scheduled events.

Most of the events will be held on the territory of the exhibition, while the Ministry of Culture and akimat will be organising events throughout the city.

More than 18 sports competitions at an international level will take place in the capital, including the Cups of the President of Kazakhstan in tennis and football, various championships of the world and Asia, and international tournaments. There will be the Astana Duathlon 2017 on June 25, the Astana Triathlon 2017 on July 30 and the Astana Marathon 2017 on August 27.

In addition to volunteers from the Astana EXPO 2017 national company, 1,000 city volunteers who speak foreign languages will help in organising events, as well as logistics at the airport and railway stations. Eight information kiosks with hand-outs, memos and instructions for tourists in four languages have begun operations. Tourist routes and audio guides have been prepared in five languages.

A new airport terminal and a new railway station will be introduced on time.

We are launching seven additional shuttle bus routes, which will be serviced by 167 new buses. They will connect EXPO with remote areas of the city and pass through the most attractive places in the city. For 11 operating city routes, it is planned to additionally launch 103 new buses.

All issues have been worked out with the city’s Department of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the National Security Committee within the interdepartmental working group. Protection of public order in the city will be provided by the reinforced Astana garrison and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Kazakhstan with a total of 8,867 employees.

On the territory of the city about 3,000 new cameras were installed. At sites close to the EXPO territory another 2,165 cameras were installed as well.

For clear coordination and prompt response, a Situation Centre has been established, and 123 emergency situations have already been determined, with response algorithms worked out.

To ensure affordable and high-quality medical care, an operational headquarters was created at the EXPO 2017 site. The territory will accommodate six first-aid posts and a medical centre. Also 13 city medical institutions and national clinics have been prepared.

Understanding the great responsibility that the large number of tourists and visitors represents, we launched projects for landscaping, planting and decorating the city. Within a month, major works on landscaping will be completed.

On the eve of expo, the city’s cultural facilities are also being prepared for the reception of numerous foreign guests. The ethno-memorial complex ‘Atameken Map of Kazakhstan,’ the Baiterek Monument and the Triumphal Arch Mangilik El will be presented with updated appearances and new content after completion of works.

In your opinion, what are the most urgent problems existing in the city today? What is being done to solve them?

In the 100 Steps programme, President Nursultan Nazarbayev set the task of making Astana one of the leading centres in the Eurasian space. The akimat continues to work in this direction to make the city clean, comfortable, beautiful, hospitable and safe. We set the task of developing public spaces, places for family leisure, for walking and cycling.

We conducted a sociological study to understand what residents of Astana need to be happy about the city. In addition, thousands of requests are received every day through the 109 call-in service. I want to say that we have an understanding of what key issues are bothering Astana residents, whether they live in Koktal or on the left bank.

For us, contact is important; we are developing a partnership system. After all, by working together, reacting and listening, we form the culture of the “active citizen” – someone who is not only unhappy about something, but also knows that the city authorities listen to him or her, that he or she has the opportunity to influence these or other issues. Thereby, he becomes more responsible. Taking this approach into account, we have adjusted the Astana Development Programme until 2020, the main goal of which is the social well-being of the population.

There are two tasks, the solution of which will ensure the welfare of citizens. The first is improvement of the quality of life. This is about the environment in which we live, including housing, public transport, ecology, health, education, people’s safety, kindergartens, sports and leisure. The second task is to ensure the growth of incomes of the population through the development of small and medium-sized businesses and creation of new jobs. Within its framework, we have identified the key tasks that we can solve in three years, taking into account financial resources and on a phased basis.

Look at the world experience – New York, London, Singapore. Each of these megacities has priority tasks and secondary ones. It is impossible to take on everything at once. For example, one of the 20 steps is the social development of the city. Here, we defined 32 social standards that should be accessible to any resident. The city was conditionally divided into 129 sectors, with about 10,000 people each. Each sector should have polyclinics, schools, bus stops, food stores, sports sections and playgrounds. This is done to reduce unnecessary traffic flows. If every square has everything, then there will be no need to go somewhere by car. We have an understanding of what those sectors are missing. Some areas need clinics, parks and gardens, more retail space, pharmacies and other things.

Lately a lot has been done to improve the city’s transport system, but there is still traffic congestion. Are there any further changes planned? What should we expect?

We have 350,000 vehicles that are registered in the city, plus about 100,000 that are transit and non-resident. A total of 400,000 – 450,000 vehicles are moving around the city on a daily basis. To change this situation, we set the task of increasing the share of the population using public transport from 33 percent to 45 percent. For this, we bought 380 new buses. In addition to the construction of roads leading to the new residential areas, the number and length of bus routes will increase.

The comprehensive plan provides measures until the end of 2019, including the construction of a light rail tram that is to be completed in 2019. A total of 18 stations will be built on the way from the new railway station to the international airport. The road network is developing as well. At the moment, 13 roads are being built linking the new railway station, airport, botanical garden and the area around EXPO.

The construction of the 47-km Small Ring Road is 48.5 percent complete and is already ready for operation. Its completion will allow more than 90,000 cars to bypass the centre of the city.

There are medium-term projects. We have started designing more than 10 interchanges. In 2018, we will build those that are the most priority ones – four interchanges with aboveground and underground passages. Construction of 12 pedestrian crossings will be carried out separately.

Another area of work is the introduction of “smart” traffic lights. This year, 90 key intersections will be connected, which will create a “green wave;” this will allow us to manage traffic. For the safety of people, we will install illuminated pedestrian crossings. There are a number of other measures that, in their entirety, should ensure the resolution of the traffic issue.

As for changing the working schedules, this is one of the measures that is used around the world. For example, in Minsk, each company has its own schedule; in Beijing, if the number of a car ends with a certain number, then on particular days it cannot drive around the city. There are more stringent measures, as in Singapore with its toll roads. There are streets in the centre of the city where the toll is very high, so people do not go there at all.

And what is here? Forty-five percent of traffic is in the morning hours. That is when everyone is rushing to different places by the same time at 9 a.m.

Therefore, we propose to divide the streams. Now, many residents are already working by this schedule. For example, builders start working at 7 a.m. Akimat and city services are open from 8.30 a.m. The police starts at 6 a.m. We did not change the time of schools and kindergartens. Currently, the number of schoolchildren in the city is about 130,000 and the number of students is 85,000. At the moment, the student schedule is discussed jointly with the Ministry of Education and Science. We suggest a start time of 9:30 a.m. or 10 a.m.; Public Service Centres and banks are also recommended to open at 10 a.m. The load is expected to decrease from about 45 percent to 36 percent.

The second measure is a restriction of the movement of freight transport, which is also used in many countries of the world. That means that the freight transport, including all communal equipment, will move only from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m.

Let’s talk about the investment attractiveness of Astana. What is the trend? What is most attractive for investors?

In general, Astana is one of the youngest and most dynamically developing capitals in the world, including in terms of investment attractiveness. Over 19 years, investments in fixed assets have grown by more than 40 times and their total volume has exceeded 7 trillion tenge (US$22.4 billion).

The akimat is doing a lot of work in the sphere of attracting investments: new potential investors are being sought on a regular basis. A separate Astana Invest organisation was created under the Socio-Entrepreneurial Corporation Astana, which is responsible for attracting investments. A railway engineering cluster has been formed, small and medium business is developing and an innovative cluster is being formed at Nazarbayev University.

The key area for attracting investments is the Special Economic Zone Astana – The New City, which includes an industrial park and an administrative and business centre. Its territory is more than 7,600 hectares.

The main objectives of the Special Economic Zone are accelerated development of the city of Astana by attracting investments and using advanced technologies in construction, as well as creating modern infrastructure and highly efficient, high-tech and competitive industries developing new types of products.

On the territory of Industrial Park No. 1, 65 investment projects are being implemented, and 41 of them have been put into operation. In 2016, under the Industrialisation Programme, 10 projects worth 37 billion tenge (US$118.6 million) were launched on the territory of the Industrial Park.

Taking into account all the global challenges of the last year, the akimat has adjusted the City Development Programme to 2020, which has two main directions – the growth of welfare, the increase in the quality of life of the population, and the transformation of Astana into a global smart city.

Global megacities and their economic impact were analysed. Ten priority sectors that ensure sustainable economic growth taking into account and the already existing advantages of the city were identified.

The first sector is tourism. Astana will become an international centre for business and medical tourism due to its world-class sports and cultural facilities. The second is a construction cluster, including new technologies in construction, new materials and engineering that will ensure a favourable growth of the city. The Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) is the third sector. The centre provides conditions for global investors including an independent legal system based on the principles of English law, tax benefits, simplified visa and labour regimes, modern infrastructure and direct flights to the major financial centres. Modern production sectors including solutions for a smart city are also important. Another sector is public services and international organisations. Regional headquarters of international organisations should be attracted to Astana. Proposals should be provided to improve national regulation in the sphere of non-commercial organisations. The list of priority sectors also includes vocational education, healthcare, trade and logistics, creative sectors, culture and sports.

Private-public partnership mechanisms and all favourable conditions will be created to attract investments to these priority sectors.

Smart specialisation has also been developed. Five centres of competence are being created in Astana with the participation of leading global companies. These are the centres of urban and agricultural technologies, medical technologies, energy, and financial technology. Start-ups will be supported as part of these initiatives.

You are a very active user of Facebook. How does this practice affect your activity as Akim? Does it help you see new issues or is it a platform for communicating with citizens?

Working in social networks is the starting point. We have interactive platforms for discussing new innovative projects, including those coming from residents. There are a lot of suggestions, including from experts proposing options on optimising the city’s development, also complaints and opinions of residents, as well as discussion about measures that can improve life. In fact, everything is done with a mind to residents.