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.
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.
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.
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