SUstaiNability oF the physicAl, socIal and political infrastructuRe (UNFAIR)



Our group discussion covered a variety of inequalities associated with urbanisation, but focused on the sustainability of the physical, social and political infrastructure in Kazakhstan.   Attention was paid to spatial inequalities (within cities, between cities, between urban and rural areas,) and intra and inter generational inequalities. The sections below outline potential areas of inequality in Kazakhstan and consider the outlook for future.

Political infrastructure

Potential inequalities were identified given current political structures, priorities and policies.   The current emphasis on the development of Astana and diversion of public funding to its development may be at the cost of maintenance and development in other cities such as Almaty.   Equally as urbanisation continues there may be challenges associated with such a concentration of power and resources in a small number of cities, as services and infrastructure receive less investment in other areas and are stretched in the biggest cities.

In the future there may be a need to diversify urbanisation policies. Additionally, engagement with a greater variety of stakeholders may be necessary in order to understand and address the issues described above.

Socio-economic infrastructure

It was questioned whether the pace of urbanisation would match economic growth (e.g. employment opportunities, housing) to generate agglomeration effects. One particular example that arose was the shift within the housing sector from state to market economy.   Changes within this sector have led to market distortions with some households finding it difficult to obtain suitable, affordable accommodation.

Migration from rural areas to cities presents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand the social network of the extended family may be fragmented, there is a loss of labour as younger generations leave for urban areas, on the other hand, there is the potential for new markets such as day care, health care facilities, education, the service industry etc.

Closer regulation of the housing market, especially for those most vulnerable (e.g. support mixed development), ensuring that services match the rate of urbanisation, and maximizing agglomeration effects to ensure benefits may mitigate some of the effects identified above. Additionally, there is a need to ensure the sustainability of rural areas.

Physical infrastructure

Spatial inequalities associated with current infrastructure were discussed. These included the location of pollution emitting sources (e.g. power plants) and the capacity of transport systems.   An example of the inequalities associated with air pollution may be found in Almaty, where wealthier sections of society live in areas with cleaner air, and poorer sections live closer to pollution sources.

An improved transport system (such as the Bus Rapid Transport which will appear in 2016) may help to reduce inequalities in access to transport, and alleviate congestion.   Attention should be paid to a variety of indicators that monitor environmental and social issues associated with transport infrastructure.


Urbanisation brings challenges and opportunities, and Kazakhstan represents a unique context given its political and cultural background in conjunction with its physical geography. There is the potential for the production and reproduction of social, political and environmental inequalities, however, there is also the potential for positive agglomeration effects and social development.

Given that two thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050 (UN 2014), a key challenge for policymakers is to build in safeguards and future proof the physical, social and political infrastructure.

UK: Luna Glucksberg, Nikolas Thomopoulos, Harriet Thomson, Carolyn Snell and Lorraine Youds

Kazakhstan: Aigul Beimisheva, Mustafa Rauan, Gulnur Saspugaeva


The Problem of Pollution and the Sustainability and Resilience of Kazakhstan’s Cities.

Our group considered the issue of pollution and how this affects the sustainability and resilience of Kazakhstans development agendas including its cities. Although Kazakhstan has many natural resources which are available for economic development, it has also inherited many polluted water bodies, contaminated sites, and air-polluting industries. For example, many water bodies are heavily polluted from industrial sites and untreated municipal wastewater. Kazakhstan has also inherited a huge nuclear test site which is still affecting the health of people and the environment – decades after the last nuclear tests. The main sources of air pollutions are the lack of investment in pollution control on power and heating stations as well as an old fleet of privately owned vehicles. A compounding factor is the low quality of refined oil products which contribute to air pollution in many heavily congested urban areas.

Kazakhstan also faces challenges with sharing precious water resources with its neighbors. This international resource sharing will require international agreements and commitments that are equitable and mutually supportive of economic, social and environmental development agendas.

One of the main2 solutions for Kazakhstan is to use its natural resource base to transition its heavy carbon-based economy into a Green Economy that is sustainable and resilient. Although this may take possibly decades to achieve, it should initially focus on pollution control and subsequently on eliminating carbon as a basis for its economy. This will initially require regulatory enforcement of stricter standards as well as monitoring, control and enforcement of regulatory standards. Instruments such as trading pollution certificates (as used in carbon trading) may also be an ecomomic mechanism to reduce pollution and introduce sustainable and resilient technologies.

Roland Bradshaw (Nazarbayev University), Sholpan Zhumadina and Yuliya Kanibolotsaya (Pavlodar University) and Bakhyt Aubakirova (L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University), Magdalena Kruza and Kyle Stevens (University of York).

Sustainable Urbanisation in Kazakhstan: Reports on the First British Council Newton-Al Farabi Researcher Links Workshop, Astana, 26-30 January 2015.

Under the auspices of the British Council’s Researcher Links programme, the University of York and the L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University convened a workshop on the theme of Sustainable Cities: rapid urbanisation and sustainability in Kazakhstan – exploring the use of novel technologies and research methods to address environmental and social change. The workshop brought together 20 early career researchers and academic mentors from UK universities with their counterparts from Kazakhstan for a week of talks, research development exercises and visits to the Eurasian National University and key urban infrastructure. As part of the week’s activities, groups of researchers were invited to share their ideas and impressions regarding the key challenges and opportunities facing Kazakhstan’s cities, which we report below. We hope that the conversations begun in Astana during this stimulating collaboration between Kazakh and UK academics will bear fruit in terms of future research collaboration.

Governing urbanisation in Kazakhstan

Like most countries, Kazakhstan is concerned with the future development and prosperity of constituent cities and regions; how is the modernisation and urbanisation of the country to be governed? How can people prosper, and social cohesion and environmental protection be ensured? In all countries, these questions must to be superimposed on existing institutions, societal norms, state budgets and cultural practice. The major cities of Kazakhstan are also modernising very rapidly. City institutions are transitioning from those of a young, post-Soviet country, to those of an established independent nation. This includes building the capacity of local government and, crucially, the cultivation of a latent civil society dialogue.

The Growth Rate of Urban Population by Regions of Kazakhstan (1999, 2009) (Source: Nyussupova, G., & Sarsenova, I. (2012). ‘Modern demographic processes in urban areas of the Republic of Kazakhstan’, Bulletin of Geography, Socio-Economic Series, 18, 99-107).

The Growth Rate of Urban Population by Regions of Kazakhstan (1999, 2009) (Source: Nyussupova, G., & Sarsenova, I. (2012). ‘Modern demographic processes in urban areas of the Republic of Kazakhstan’, Bulletin of Geography, Socio-Economic Series, 18, 99-107).

New Apartment Construction, Astana, Kazakhstan. ©Xiu Gao.

New Apartment Construction, Astana, Kazakhstan. ©Xiu Gao.

With colleagues from Kazakh Universities, a group of researchers from the UK are in the capital Astana investigating the pressures of modernisation on the governance of sustainable development in the cities and regions of Kazakhstan. Through often passionate discussions, two issues consistently emerge for the governance of sustainable development.

Firstly there has been a consistent concern about the ability of Kazakh civil society to participate in decision making on issues such as urban water management, air quality, waste management and urban planning. It’s important for UK researchers to understand how much of this is due to a cultural memory of 74 years of socialist rule, under which decisions were made centrally and civil participation could be dangerous. The operation of civil society in Kazakhstan has also recently been expressed through family or neighbourhood units. This means there is a mechanism for dealing with local issues and social provision. Yet under modernisation and urbanisation the satisfaction of basic needs can lead to larger scale impacts. Collection and disposable of solid and sewage waste in cities of one million and above can lead to large scale environmental and social problems which require strong civil participation as well as state action. The planning of a city region needs to engage with organisations above neighbourhood level.

The Location of the Four City-Region Agglomerations  under the Kazakhstan “Development of the Regions 2020” Plan. (Elaborated by Madina Junussova, 2015

The Location of the Four City-Region Agglomerations under the Kazakhstan “Development of the Regions 2020” Plan. (Elaborated by Madina Junussova, 2015

State action and structure is the second issue under debate. Kazakhstan has a very strong central government structure, used to delivering urban and regional as well as national projects. Strengthening the capacity of municipal governments has been identified as a real challenge, as city and regional governments are becoming responsible for the daily needs of urban populations that, in the case of Astana and Almaty in particular, are growing and changing rapidly. Of course the institutional asymmetry of a strong central state with low fiscal and political autonomy for local governments is familiar to UK colleagues. This is why discussion of the shift towards localism and greater powers for Scotland following last year’s referendum has been extremely useful for framing the debate on local governance in Kazakhstan.

City Centre, Astana, Kazakhstan. © Xiu Gao.

City Centre, Astana, Kazakhstan. © Xiu Gao.

In Kazakhstan the parallel evolution of civic participation and the capacity of municipal government will define how far sustainable development can be democratised at the local level. At the national-level intergovernmental co-operation will also be key for sharing solutions to urban problems. There are important developments in urban planning, such as the Master Plan of Astana—newly revised for the 2017 World Expo—which are experimenting with new forms of public consultation and participation, building the foundation for civic action in major cities. The development of an active local democracy will require strong debate and is not without political risks as we have seen in other post-Soviet republics. Following how this process develops in Kazakhstan will be fascinating. Although a much smaller country in population terms but with a much greater land mass, Kazakhstan provides an important example for those concerned with the future of governance in the UK; challenging us to question whether we appreciate our own hard fought for opportunities to engage in local decision making, and asking us to reflect on how well we utilise our own institutions of civil society in order to hold government to account.

Lead author Stephen Hall (University of Leeds), with Madina Junussova (Carleton University), Dan Durrant (University College London), Marzhan Thomas (Birkbeck College, University of London), Joshua Kirshner (University of Durham), Simon Parker and Xiu Gao (University of York) Bulat Aikeshev (Gumiliyev Eurasian University), Aliya Chuyeva (New Economic University Almaty).

Ayona Datta & Desiree Fields – CURB Seminar Series continues

Continuing into 2015, the CURB Seminar Series will feature Ayona Datta (Feb 4th) & Desiree Fields (Feb 18) at the usual time of 4:15pm in the Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building, University of York.

SeminarSeries_DATTA_RGBA 100 Smart Cities, a 100 New Utopias: Fictions of Migration and Urbanization in India

Ayona Datta, School of Geography, University of Leeds

In 2010, it was predicted by McKinsey Global Institute that India’s urban population will rise by 8% in the next 20 years with over 590 million people living in Indian cities. McKinsey suggested that India will need a planned portfolio of at least 20–30 new ‘cities of tomorrow’ to accommodate this increase.  In 2014, the newly elected Indian government announced an ambitious programme of building 100 new smart cities across India.  These cities are presented as the answer to the challenges of rural-urban migration, rapid urbanisation, and sustainable development in India.

This paper presents what it terms the ‘fictions’ of migration and urbanization in India that legitimises new regimes of accumulation and dispossession. Fictions situate diverse global spaces and practices of becoming ‘smart’ within a context of utopian urban planning in India, in ways that entire new cities are put together through a rhetoric of crisis around migration and urbanization. By looking at the emerging smart city policy and the increasing national competition between Indian cities to be declared as the ‘first’ smart city, this paper makes the following arguments. First that smart cities in India are part of a longer genealogy of utopian colonial and post-colonial urban planning, which now tap into the desires and aspirations of the young upwardly mobile Indian youth to stake new digital citizenships. Second, that the sustenance of the fiction demands a continuous ‘lawfare’ by the state to make land available for the new smart city infrastructure. Finally, that the fault lines of these utopian visions of smart cities begin to emerge when their claims to establish digital citizenships encounter the messy realities of local citizenships tied to land.

SeminarSeries_FIELDS_RGBAssembling the Single-Family Rental Market: Post-Crisis Geographies of Financialization in the U.S.

Desiree Fields, Department of Geography, University of Sheffield 

The representation of bank-repossessed properties littering the U.S. urban landscape has shifted rapidly over the past few years:  once distressed assets, these homes now constitute a desirable new institutional asset class. Since 2011, large investors have acquired nearly 400,000 foreclosed properties, capitalizing on low property values and surging post-crisis rental demand by converting formerly owner-occupied properties to rental housing. This paper examines the assemblage of discourses, practices, and technologies constituting distressed-as-desirable assets, as well as the emergence of counter-discourses that seek to problematize this representation.

New corporate landlords mobilize discourses of “improving community” by stimulating local economies, stabilizing property values, and meeting contemporary housing needs. Investors’ practices of large-scale, fast-paced property acquisition have opened up a pipeline for new financial products: corporate landlords have rolled out more than a dozen rental securitizations since late 2013. At the same time, technologies are central to securing the representation of distressed-as-desirable assets. Corporate landlords rely on proprietary software and algorithms to bid on and acquire properties, collect rent and manage property maintenance for geographically dispersed portfolios, and to continuously evaluate and manage their investments.

Thus properties once devalued by the spectacular bust of the global real estate bubble are being selectively re-valued as they are incorporated into new regimes of financial accumulation. However, counter-discourses from activists, housing advocates, and policymakers also point to the incomplete and therefore contestable nature of distressed-as-desirable assets. This paper concludes by reflecting on the potential for fracturing the careful alignment of discourses, practices, and technologies that have brought forth this representation of housing.

CURB York and Kazakh Researchers meet in Astana

York and Kazakh Researchers meet in Astana for British Council Workshop on Sustainable Cities.

From left to right: Dikhan Kamzabekuly, Vice President of L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University; Berik Erbosynov,Head of the Department of Waste Management in the Ministry of Energy; Dr Raikhan Beisenova, L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University (Workshop Coordinator); Professor Alistair Boxall, University of York (Workshop Coordinator).

From left to right: Dikhan Kamzabekuly, Vice President of L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University; Berik Erbosynov,Head of the Department of Waste Management in the Ministry of Energy; Dr Raikhan Beisenova, L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University (Workshop Coordinator); Professor Alistair Boxall, University of York (Workshop Coordinator).

“Sustainability and urbanisation” was the theme for the first British Council Newton-Al-Farabi Researcher Links Workshop in Astana, Kazakhstan from 26-30 January 2015.

Professor Alistair Boxall from the University of York’s Environment Department who co-organised the programme thanked the Newton-Al Farabi Partnership Programe, the British Council and the L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University for their generous support of the Researcher Links Workshop.

“We are delighted to be here in Astana, which is one of the world’s fastest growing cities, to discuss the environmental and social impacts of rapid urbanization in and beyond Kazakhstan. The workshop brings together senior policy makers from national and local government, academic experts and early career researchers from UK universities and the L.N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University to look at the challenges facing rapidly urbanizing cities and how new research technologies and research methodologies can help us to better address the issues.”

Professor Boxall went on to add:

“This is also a great opportunity to build research links between UK universities and our counterparts in Kazakhstan and we hope that the workshop will generate future collaborations in terms of research exchanges, grant applications and scientific publications.”

The welcoming address was given by Berik Erbosynov, Head of the Department of Waste Management in the Ministry of Energy, who identified a number of challenges for the Kazakh capital, which has quadrupled in population in 14 years. Astana’s 800,000 residents have an increasing need for clean drinking water and energy supply, Mr Erbosynov explained, while the growth in the urban population requires new infrastructure to cope with waste water treatment and the growing problem of air pollution.

Dr Zhanbyrshy Nurkenov, Chairman of the National Chamber of Housing and Communal Services then explained some of the measures that the national and city governments have taken to make Kazakhstan’s cities more sustainable and protective of the natural environment. These include the introduction of water saving technology for the reuse and recycling of waste water; carbon dioxide capture, energy efficient building materials, new lower emission technologies for public transport and a move away from coal fired to gas powered power generation in and near cities. As part of its long term strategy for sustainable and lower impact energy development, Kazakhstan plans to adopt new emission standards based on European Union protocols.

Kanat Abashov, British Council in Kazakhstan.

Kanat Abashov, British Council in Kazakhstan.

The British Council representative in Astana, Kanat Abashov, then welcomed the delegates and explained the various opportunities available to UK and Kazakh researchers under the Newton-Al Farabi research collaboration. He congratulated the University of York and the Eurasian National University for organizing the first workshop in the series and looked forward to returning at the end of the week to discuss funding opportunities and how further collaboration can be developed between environmental and urban researchers in the UK and Kazakhstan.

Professor Boxall was joined by CURB Co-Director Dr Simon Parker, of the Department of Politics and CURB Deputy Director Dr Carolyn Snell, of the Department of Social Policy and Social Work together with six research fellows and research students from Environment and Social Policy.  The workshop also includes early career researchers from other UK universities including Brunel, University College London, Leeds, Newcastle, Imperial College, London School of Economics and Goldsmith’s along with 20 researchers and academics from Kazakhstan universities and research institutes.

Welcome to the Centre for URBan Research Blog

Curb[kurb]: the edge or margin of a road, the limit of a thoroughfare. Those urban centres where the majority of national and global populations live, the everyday, ordinary, in-between and outwith.

CURB focuses on ‘majority-urban’ centres (the kinds of urban settlement where most people live) of all sizes to provide a space for discussion, action and research to inform and improve places for people. Our work covers a wide range of areas but with a particular emphasis on:

  • Urban political life and policy
  • Crime, social disorder and insecurity
  • Social life, culture and consumption in city spaces
  • Urban design and planning

CURB was created in order to bring together key academics with established profiles in urban research and analysis at the University of York. Instigated at a time of major social upheaval and crisis that is already impacting upon urban centres and populations globally, CURB aligns critical urban research with advanced teaching on cities.

The Centre for Urban Research seeks to be a critical observatory, tracking important changes and developments in urban and regional economies, societies and environments in order to identify and examine the issues likely to become key challenges in the near future. A program of frequent events provide forums for diverse communities, policy-makers and academic colleagues to exchange ideas and present developments cutting-edge urban research.

CURB aims to provide a means whereby academic research and analysis can be applied to promote incisive thinking and action around urban social problems.