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The Ulaanbaatar plan to manage its competing urbanisms

This article posits a comprehensive critique of the 2030 Master Plan for Ulaanbaatar through the
identification of the citys five competing urbanisms. Ulaanbaatars traditional Mongolian
community and housing, soviet-style urban socialism, neoliberalism including cosmopolitanism
and advanced marginality, and Compact City urbanisms are all being forcibly stitched together
and illogically zoned to support the developments and strategies of the 2030 Master Plan. A
mixed methods approach to urban research and analysis involving qualitative and quantitative
primary data, personal accounts and observations, secondary sources, and document analyses is
employed for the deconstruction and rationalization of the Plan. Through these findings and
conclusions, the Plan cannot foster Ulaanbaatars unique and indigenous urban culture under a
neoliberal structure while promoting the Compact City urbanism sponsored by foreign state
investors. Adjustments to the 2030 Master Plan require further accommodation, moving from a
vision of the neoliberal Compact City to one that also includes indigenous desires for ger district
lifestyles. The Ulaanbaatar administration needs to establish a plan that coordinates all of the
citys urbanisms and at the same time modernizes and resolves its advanced marginalities.

Keywords: Ulaanbaatar, comparative urbanism, urbanization, sustainability, plan

Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, is one of the worlds most complex and multifaceted urban
cities. The city has been reshaped both by traditional notions of urban and rural settlements as
well as by specific planning directives driven by Mongolias international relations with the
Soviet Union, China, and more diffuse global neoliberal development. With growth in
commercial and service industries, along with skyrocketing financial assets in mining and natural
resource production, Ulaanbaatar is experiencing an incredible surge in people migrating to the
city searching for an improved quality of life. However, the mass influx of migrants from the
countryside, as well as expatriates, foreign labor forces, and businesspeople, have overwhelmed
Ulaanbaatars infrastructures, housing, resources, and government services. Many of these rural
migrants have settled on the outskirts of the city in informal housing and in mobile tents called
gers, while foreigners and the wealthy have resettled in the city center. The rapid urbanization
and fragmented, unregulated land settlement of Ulaanbaatar due to these immensely-growing ger
areas has created land zoning issues, pollution, population congestion, and government
mismanagement. Moreover, those migrating to the city cannot find work as they mostly come
from uneducated and unskilled backgrounds. From these employment discrepancies a significant
rich/poor divide has been established. Those living in the inner city have better access to jobs
and housing opportunities over inhabitants in the ger districts.
In 2002, the government approved a Master Plan to construct and improve housing and
infrastructures for Ulaanbaatar residents, but this mainly occurred in the inner city. Conversely,
ger areas emerging on the citys outskirts were largely ignored and their problems simplified and
underestimated. Urban planning in Ulaanbaatar has achieved improvements in infrastructure that
will support new globalized and market-based developments, such as central business district
redevelopment, airport construction, and highway and rail upgrades. However, urban planning
requires the reconfiguring of earlier urban footprints and accommodating changing and
fragmented city visions. The Mongolian administration does not have the capacity to fully

rationalize the strains of Ulaanbaatars urbanisms and consequently, their urban planning
initiatives lack coherency and effectiveness and result in hybridized and uneven forms of
These unequal sociospatial developments and polarizations, along with underestimation
of the urban sprawl and the inefficiency of the 2002 Master Plan, prompted the Mongolian
government to update their strategy for urbanizing Ulaanbaatar with another Master Plan
undertaken in 2013, with an expected completion date of 2030. The Ulaanbaatar governments
programmatic response to the negative effects of the neoliberal sociospatial inequalities and
advanced marginalities, however, reveals the tensions that persist with these incompatible
visions and practices that exist among five distinctive but multi-connected urbanisms that make
up the city. A deeper, historical understanding of the citys urban planning efforts provides a
better insight into how the city has been assembled and restructured, as well as a place to critique
the methods of the 2030 Master Plan.
Urbanism is defined as the complex relationship between urban areas and cities and their
inhabitants, structures, planning, and urbanization. With reference to Ulaanbaatar, the city has
been refashioned through the various logics of its five urbanisms: traditional (rural) Mongolian
community and housing, soviet-style urban socialism, neoliberalism including cosmopolitanism
and advanced marginality, and Compact City urbanism. McCann and Ward (2012) suggest that

Cities can be understood as assemblages of materials and resources, knowledge and

understandings from close by and far away, from the present and the pastOur notion of
assembling urbanism, then, points to the fact that cities are made coherent though the
work of their inhabitants, through the efforts of actors located elsewhere, and through the
power-laden and uneven relations among these actors, all set within larger social and
material contexts, which tend to complicate straightforward assumptions about causality
(McCann and Ward 2012, 43).

Relying upon a mixed methods approach to urban research and analysis involves collecting both
qualitative and quantitative primary data, personal accounts and observations, secondary sources,
and document analyses to make sense of comparative, constitutive, and relational urbanisms
(Small 2011, Jacobs 2012). By mapping and examining the relations between component
urbanisms in Ulaanbaatar, we can see how these integral urbanisms have produced systemic
tensions. These competing and restructuring urbanisms have had and will continue to have a
dominant impact on the direction of urbanism and urbanization of the ger communities and the
inner city.
To successfully address the urban issues of Ulaanbaatar, one has to understand the citys
myriad of urbanisms. Ulaanbaatar is in the midst of a spatial struggle; the Master Plan is
illogically reordering and stitching together the traditional, neoliberal, and socialist components
of the city through a Compact City lens. However, for Ulaanbaatar to be a successful global
neoliberal city, it must strive to establish its uniqueness by incorporating traditional settlement
structures along with the international expectations and development mechanisms, articulated
through the Master Plan to reorder the city. The Master Plan ultimately cannot deliver an
authentic, intact Ulaanbaatar within the neoliberal process of globalization given the
requirements of development influenced by Russian, Chinese, and other outside investors. The
updated Master Plan will continue to misguide the urbanization strategy of Ulaanbaatar through

an erroneous expectation of how the Compact City will reorder and improve the city and
rationalize these overlapping urbanisms. Instead of destructively meshing together the urbanisms
of Ulaanbaatar to force the Compact City, each urbanism should be individually sustained,
providing city residents a means to negotiate an unbound urbanism as they traverse a transitive
and fragmented city (Jacobs 2012, 911).

Background of the City

Long before its commercial and industrial transformation, Ulaanbaatar was a mobile nomadic
Buddhist monastery town, navigating between the Tuul, Selenge, and Orkhon rivers. Ulaanbaatar
(known then as Urga or Ikh Khree) was officially founded in 1639 to be the seat of the first
Jebtsundamba Khutuktu Zanabazar (1635-1723), but wasnt clearly set in a permanent
foundation until 1778, due to its growing immobility and population (Campi 2006). When
Manchu armies of the Qing dynasty (circa 1644-1912) invaded areas of Mongolia in the late 17th
century, they brought with them trading networks, modern resources and technologies, and
development plans for Mongolian towns (Bruun and Narangoa 2006). Through Manchu
guidance, townships were built up around Qing military camps, monasteries, and administration
centers to bolster Qing power in the region. From this, Ulaanbaatar expanded as a township
because of its popular Gandan monastery and its geopolitical status in the Selbe Valley. The
prosperity from caravan and trading routes and the location of a plethora of natural resources
attracted many foreign traders to set up permanent residences in Ulaanbaatar, including 4,000
Chinese merchants by 1807 (Bruun and Narangoa 2006). Elements of early Chinese spatial
ordering influenced Ulaanbaatar. State authority was spatially represented through religious and
administrative foundations while commercial activities were minor in social and spatial
relevance. By the late 19th century, the growth of Ulaanbaatar fashioned the city into three
informal districts, Gandan Monastery, Zn Khree, and the Chinese trading district
Maimaicheng. Besides Lamaist dwellings, traditional Mongolian housing in the Gandan
Monastery and Zn Khree districts typically consisted of a fenced-in plot containing one or
two gers and a baishing (small wooden house), while Chinese housing in the isolated
Maimaicheng district were mainly clay-bricked homes (Pozdneyev 2010).

1 Lin, George C.S. 2013. Chinese Urbanism in Question: State, Society, and the Reproduction of Urban Spaces. Urban Geography 28 (1):


Figure 1. Painting of Urga in 1913. Authority and power is consolidated with Gandan Monastery district to the left and Zn
Khree complex and district in the center, while Maimaicheng at the bottom right was separated from the rest of Ulaanbaatar.
Source: Jugder. 1913. Niislel khuree. Photograph in JPG format from Bogd Khan Palace Museum, Ulaanbaatar.

Under Qing rule and influence, Ulaanbaatar furnished a distinctive cosmopolitan identity, fusing
together the pastoralism and agriculture of the rural Mongols with the commercial activities and
modern improvements of the Qing. On the other hand, many Mongols deeply despised Qing rule
because of high taxation, a stagnating local economy, and discrimination of Mongols by
powerful Manchu residents (Gilberg and Svantesson 1996).
The collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 gave Mongolians the opportunity to organize
for independence. Even though Mongolia formally declared its freedom in 1911, the Chinese still
considered Mongolia Chinese territory and reinvaded the lands in 1919. After the successful
expulsion of the Chinese in 1921 with Soviet assistance, the Mongolian Peoples Republic was
formed in 1924. Although Mongolia was an independent communist state, it was heavily
controlled by the Soviet Union. A vehement ally of the U.S.S.R., Mongolia created policies
based on Soviet ideologies, from finances to manufacturing. Beginning in the late 1920s,
Mongolia underwent heightened industrialization and modernization implementations, sponsored
by the U.S.S.R. In 1935, the city contained a population of 10,400 and was slowly growing with
its rising access to communist states and their resources and developments (Gilberg and
Svantesson 1996). A line from the Trans-Siberian railway to run through Ulaanbaatar was
drafted in the 1930s and completed in 1956, connecting the city to a network of commercial
cities and trading hubs.
The Soviet influenced Master Plans were key in initiating the transformation of Mongolia
from a strictly agricultural and pastoral backwater land into an economically and politically
relevant state, with policies integrating industrialization centralized politics, rapid urbanization,
and military growth. Mining, energy output, collectivization of farms and pastoral lands,
education, and technology were all at the forefront of Mongolias five year Master Plans, with
the first being approved in 1954 (Wilenius 2008). Within each five-year Master Plan strategy for

Mongolia, the Soviets and the Mongolians specifically employed industrialization and
manufacturing in Ulaanbaatar, to both exploit natural resources and to increase energy and
capital (Gilberg and Svantesson 1996).
Ulaanbaatar vastly developed light industry, essentially being woodworking enterprises, textiles,
clothing, leather, food processing plants, and various other handicrafts companies. Along with
industry, Ulaanbaatar expanded in the energy sector as well from the Master Plans. Coal mines
and lumber mills were constructed in the citys periphery, and power stations and lines were
raised to connect Ulaanbaatar with other regions of Mongolia. With this rise in industry and the
collectivization of herders, the government needed a large labor force to maintain these
improvements. Mongolian nomads and farmers attracted to these new enterprises, combined with
the harsh countryside living conditions, relocated to Ulaanbaatar and supplied the citys labor
force (Behan 2011).

Soviet Socialist Urbanism

The expansion of these economical foci transformed the urban landscape of the city as well. For
the urban format of Ulaanbaatar to parallel the rise of industry in the city, the Mongolian city and
national administration conceptualized and developed Ulaanbaatar to be molded into a Soviet
socialist urban city. The Soviet Unions socialist urbanism was an important model for the
direction of Ulaanbaatars urbanism due to the massive amounts of resources, technologies, and
professionals directed to the urban formation of Ulaanbaatar by the U.S.S.R. The absence of any
significant geopolitical allies in the area allowed for the Soviets to gain a foothold in influencing
Mongolian urbanism. The Soviet Socialist urbanism maximizes mass production and labor with
connected and simplified functions and services, while at the same time regulates it in a spatially
dense and concentrated city. Under the socialist city, multifamily residential buildings fosters
aspects of smart urban growth and better living conditions than in rural areas (Reiner and Wilson
1979). A typical Soviet residential block consists of a small park or other style of green space,
surrounded by residential housing of at least three stories. Political centralization is essential to
socialist functionality and this is mirrored in the urban spatial landscape. Specific structures and
spaces are employed to display Soviet political authority through the utilization of spectacle.
Open squares and towering administration buildings are located in the city center and promote
military parades, political operations, and state ceremonies. These primary state structures
positioned in the city center represent state power as the heart of the city. Uniformity is also a
main component in socialist cities, used to reduce urban diversity, marginality, and inner city
density while strengthening a homogenous Soviet society (Lin 2013). At the same time, all land
and buildings are state owned, allowing the government to exercise control over land utilization,
economic functionality, and uniformity.
The cohesive structure of the Master Plans and the implementation of the Socialist city
helped to stem the rapid migration of people to Ulaanbaatar during Soviet control. The 1940s
saw the beginning of Ulaanbaatars residential buildings construction period. These structures,
called Ugsarmals, were high-rise residential apartments erected to house the city population
(Demberel 2010; Bassett 2010).

Figure 2. Typical Socialist block in downtown Ulaanbaatar. Source: Authors photograph, 2012.

Ugsarmals were styled like Soviet Socialist urban residential flats, with green areas surrounded
by residential buildings that included public infrastructures and commodities such as plumbing,
electricity, and sanitation. The 1954 Master Plan introduced a controlled and orderly method of
residential building construction in Ulaanbaatar with each structure built up to nine stories tall
(Byambadorj, Amati, and Ruming 2011; Bassett 2010). Ulaanbaatar also used urban space as an
instrument for solidifying communist authority. Skhbaatar Square, renamed Chinggis Square in
2013, was one of the most prominent landmarks of Mongolia. It served as a central urban space
utilized specifically for displaying military and communist governmental strength.

Figure 3. Chinggis Square. Government Palace in back with Sukhbaatar statue to the left. Source: Authors photograph, 2012.

The square was dedicated to Mongolian revolutionary hero Damdin Skhbaatar, a founding
member of the communist Mongolian Peoples Party and a key leader in Mongolian

independence from China. Located in the heart of the city with influential buildings surrounding
the square, including the State Opera and Ballet Theatre, Cultural Palace, and Government
Palace, Skhbaatar Square had always been employed as a spectacle for representing Mongolian
communist identity and power. Monuments of Mongolian revolutionary heroes were littered
throughout the city, including the mausoleum behemoth for Skhbaatar and Prime Minister
Khorloogiin Choibalsan, preserving the legacies of Mongolian revolutionary communist heroes
(Myadar and Rae 2015).
Since 75 percent of all properties at that time were state owned, the Mongolian
government established a system in which property and land was distributed to enterprises for
economic functions, and was regularly monitored and inspected for proper land utilization. The
increasing amount of manufacturing and mining jobs in Ulaanbaatar allowed for thousands to be
employed, thus many rural Mongolians saw this expansion of work and government-provided
housing as an opportunity to replace the harsh working conditions in the countryside (Badarch,
Zilinskas, and Balint 2003). Ulaanbaatar skyrocketed to a city population of 100,000 in 1956 and
600,000 by 1989. This vast migration to Ulaanbaatar did result in some overcrowding and the
establishment of informal ger districts on the fringes of the city, but the administration was
adamant about the eradication and prevention of these ger areas. The 1986 Master Plan
envisioned the creation of 11 new residential districts to house its increasing population and the
abolition of all ger areas by 2010 (Gilberg and Svantesson 1996). The moderate success of
efficiently built high-rise housing to accommodate and organize this expanded population was
derived from a combination of the Soviet-backed Master Plans and Ulaanbaatar administrations
Socialist city planning.

Neoliberalization of Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar

Beginning in 1989, Mongolians began to demand free elections and economic modifications as a
result of the influences from Mikhail Gorbachevs Glasnost and Perestroika Soviet reforms. Due
to surmounting pressure from the thousands of Mongolians protesting the government, the
communist regime was peacefully removed in 1990 and replaced with a democratic state and a
neoliberal free market economy. With the transition of government, the Soviets pulled out
technologies and resources that Mongolia relied on, creating a vacuum of markets, specialized
personnel, and investment. Mongolias ejection from and the eventual dissolution of the Council
of Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), a worldwide trading network operated by the Soviet
Union and its allies, was a major setback to Mongolias foreign aid and international trade.
Mongolia became economically fragile from the scarcity of imports and export destinations,
declining from $832 million in export revenue in 1989 to $370 million in 1991 (Sneath 2010).
The nation lost around $1 billion in foreign aid per year after their removal from the CMEA, and
the Soviet Union withdrew their 75,000 technocrats and 50,000 soldiers (Badarch, Batsukh, and
Batmunkh 2003). From the decline of financial networks, foreign aid, and modern technology,
the availability of natural resources in Mongolia decreased during the first few years of the open
market economy, and many mining and resource industries became bankrupt. In 1994, 40% of
all enterprises were closed or temporarily terminated production (Bruun and Odgaard 1996).
Annual inflation skyrocketed 325.5% in 1992 and Mongolias GDP figures declined sharply
after the transition, with a -2.5% decline in 1990, -9.2% in 1991, -9.5% in 1992, and -3% in
1993 (Chimeddagva, Jargalsaikhan, and Walters 2000). After these few years of economic

instability and shortcomings, Mongolia began to prosper again through neoliberal economic
policies and direction, along with financial contributions and investments from other countries
and international organizations. The prevailing view that unregulated and open markets, removed
from any intrusion from state authority, would lead to financial and capital development,
domestic and foreign investment, and the modernized restructuring of Mongolias economy.
Following the nations transition to a neoliberal free market economy, mass privatization
of state-owned enterprises and services erupted. Auctions for these state-owned entities were
conducted for easier transitions for businesses and companies into the private sector and to
provide revenue for the cash-strapped government. The privatization of businesses benefitted
both the government and the public; the government could spend less money on wages and
subsidies (constituting 10% of the state budget) while the public could now have more authority
over the economy and in production (Stubbs and Luvsandorj 2000). By 1994, Mongolias GDP
growth rate improved 2.3%, with each subsequent year having a positive rate as well. In 1996,
the U.S., Japan, and Germany became Mongolias largest donors, supplying the state with 60%
of its total disbursements in 1995 and 25% of its GDP (Chimeddagva, Jargalsaikhan, and Walters
2000; Nixson et al. 2000). However, China has accounted for almost 50% of total foreign state
direct investment in Mongolia since its conversion (Backes 2013). Organizations such as the
United Nations Development Programme, Asian Development Bank, International Monetary
Fund, and the World Bank all began donating millions to Mongolia after the transition,
specifically to sponsor energy, transport, industry, and agriculture sectors with foci on geology
and mining (Nixson et al. 2000).
These disbursements have obviously been an influential factor in the development of
Mongolias economy, since 20% of Mongolias GDP now consists of mining enterprises
followed by agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries together constituting 17% (The World
Bank 2014). Many nations saw Mongolias transition as an opportunity to obtain resources
through trade and to invest in Mongolian companies and industries. In 1990, 81% of all
Mongolian exports went to the U.S.S.R. but by 2014, Mongolian export destinations drastically
changed with China receiving 93% of Mongolian exports along with being the source of 37.8%
of Mongolian imports (Dominguez 2014). By the end of 2011, Mongolia had the second highest
growth rate of 17.5% in the world with 3,874.6 billion Tugrik in investments and 49.5% of it
being foreign direct investment (Chilkhaasuren and Baasankhuu 2012; The World Bank 2014).
Changes to a democracy and a neoliberal, free market economy resulted in an expansive
and explosive effect on the functionality of Ulaanbaatar. The deregulation of Mongolias
economy opened up the city to foreign direct investments and national and international firms.
Private companies and individuals took over and restructured their businesses to match the
growing globalization of the world with many of these newly-privatized enterprises focused
extensively on internationally popular commercial and service industries. Ulaanbaatar economic
entities began specializing in finance, audit, consultancy, real estate, public relations, media,
tourism (Chinbat 2004, 7). As Saskia Sassen notes, cities with outmoded industrial bases have
reemerged with new functions and as part of new networks, and Ulaanbaatar has definitely
applied this reasoning with its transition from being a city specialized in light industry and
manufacturing to now commercial and service industries (Sassen 2012, 74). The citys economy
now constitutes 68.8% services, 30.7% industry and construction, and .5% other, along with
72.4% of all registered businesses in Mongolia (Chilkhaasuren and Baasankhuu 2012). These
rapidly growing industries in Ulaanbaatar have not only increased funds and gross national

income, but have also created more jobs and attracted foreign businesses. Ulaanbaatar now
presently produces 63% of the countrys GDP, generating 85% of national power and energy,
and contains at least 50% its of investments (The World Bank 2013; The World Bank 2014).
With the increase in commercial and service sectors in Ulaanbaatar, the allowance of land
seizure and settlement, and a series of harsh winters in the countryside, rural Mongolians saw
these as an opportunity to find better work and housing, thus prompted them to relocate to the
city. By the beginning of 2015, Ulaanbaatar consisted of 1.3 million residents, representing 44%
of Mongolias 3 million total population, with an estimation of the citys population growth to be
about 4% per year (MONSIS 2015; NSO 2015).

Neoliberal Cosmopolitanism
The transformation of Mongolia and Ulaanbaatar into a neoliberal economic powerhouse not
only changed the production, markets, and output of the capital city, but it also reordered the
citys urban structure and landscape as well. Through these reorganizations, market-driven
sociospatial expansion occurred in Ulaanbaatar, with an emphasis on capital development and
the redistribution and reallocation of resources. As a result, the city was being programmed to
become more cosmopolitan and global-centric, with many buildings constructed or converted to
contain these new majors sites of unregulated economic production, capital, and investment.
Mongolians proceeded to establish Ulaanbaatar as a cosmopolitan and global city through
modernization, commercialization, and globalization facilitated by the new neoliberal Mongolian
government (Bruun and Narangoa 2006). Similar to the effects of neoliberalism in the economy,
market-driven sociospatial expansion was reflected in urban planning, with the city government
relaxing control over where buildings were constructed and attention was given more to
buildings with economic concentrations rather than infrastructures, green areas, traffic flow, and
the accessibility and transportation of the city. Ulaanbaatars urban space expanded from this
neoliberalism, including 448 buildings constructed in 2011 with 20% being government owned
and 80% to private entities and individuals, and 65% of all business entities along with 75.4% of
all construction and maintenance works were located in the city (Chilkhaasuren and Baasankhuu
2012). With the hyper urbanization of Mongolia, 58% of the total supply of residential space was
located in Ulaanbaatar by the end of 2011, amounting to almost 6.4 million square meters
(M.A.D. Investment Solutions 2013).
Through the neoliberal urban planning of the city, Ulaanbaatar has become increasingly
cosmopolitan in the city center, with urban space being transformed to sustain international
businesses and organizations. Luxury and high-rise apartments, offices, hotels, restaurants etc.,
have been built to accommodate the upper class that lives in the inner city. Many buildings in the
city center reflect architectural styles of various countries, including Chinese, Korean, American,
European, Russian, and Southeast Asian designs (IPC 2014). Ulaanbaatar is restructuring to be
more of a cultural hub, containing 38% of Mongolias professional art organizations and 4.1% of
cultural centers (NSO 2010). This cosmopolitan vision has been marketed globally by real estate
and economic development initiatives (M.A.D. Investment Solutions 2013; HGTV House
Hunters International 2011). Visible effects on Ulaanbaatars urban space include the opulent
Blue Sky Tower, a symbol of Ulaanbaatars cosmopolitan brand. Completed in 2010, the
twenty-five story building is the tallest and most luxurious structure in Mongolia and displays
features such as international, five-star hotel, grade-A commercial office space and penthouse

residences in addition to such amenities as meeting and convention facilities, a fitness

centerluxury retail boutique shops as well as various fine dining restaurants (Mongolian
Properties 2015).

Figure 4. Blue Sky Tower. Source: Authors photograph, 2012.

Additionally, Ulaanbaatar has concentrated on increasing tourism to the city through

advertising Mongolian cultural and historical structures mixed with the modern and mainly
Western improvements of the city. The city accounts for around 40% of all hotels in Mongolia
and plans for Western luxury hotels, including the Sheraton Ulaanbaatar and Radisson Blue
Hotel, are projected to be open in 2016 (NSO 2010; Banzragch 2014). Attracting visitors to
Mongolia has been accomplished through the branding of many facets of traditional Mongolian
culture and identity. Nomadic hospitality, Chinggis Khan, trekking, horse riding, and the
wilderness of the steppes are some of the major representations constructed by tourist industries
to fascinate foreigners and make Mongolia recognizable. Images of men in traditional Mongolian
garb holding eagles, hikers traversing pristine steppes while under an endlessly blue sky, and
Buddhist temples are displayed on popular tourist websites and travel guides such as lonely
planet (lonely planet 2015; Myadar 2009). Almost 50% of all yearly tourists are Chinese, with
Russians constituting 25 percent (Banzragch 2014). The total number of visitors to Mongolia has
grown from 205,000 in 2011 to 417,000 in 2013 with predictions of 696,000 tourists by 2024
(WTTC 2014; Banzragch 2014). Most tourists traveling to Mongolia visit Ulaanbaatar since the

city contains Mongolias only international airport, Chinggis Khan International Airport, and is a
central basing point for excursions into other parts of the nation. The city is also a major stop on
the Trans-Mongolian Railway, connecting Ulaanbaatar to Moscow and Beijing via railway.
From a 2010 census, over 16,400 foreign citizens and stateless persons were in Mongolia for a
period of 6 months or more, with the majority of them residing in Ulaanbaatar (M.A.D.
Investment Solutions 2013). From the development of tourism and international connections, a
unique city culture has emerged with a mixture of traditional Mongolian themes and Western
The increase in younger Mongolians drawn to Ulaanbaatar for employment and
education has also transformed the identity of the city with a hybridization of indigenous
Mongolian traditions and Western influences. Many teenagers that live in the Ulaanbaatar ger
districts maintain traditional Mongolian customs, but also play hip-hop music, watch the
American National Basketball Association, and wear Western-styled clothing (Langfitt 2012). In
2013, Ulaanbaatar demographics displayed 64.2% of the citys population to be under the age of
35 while the average age of migrants to the city is 19-24 years. Mongolias total population is
considered to be young as well, with the median age of 26.2 years (25.8 for males and 26.6 for
females). Additionally, the gender ratio in Ulaanbaatar is 89.9 men per 100 women. The higher
female population in the city is not only from higher mortality rates among men, but also more
women are leaving rural and sedentist areas for Ulaanbaatar in search for better opportunities.
Average gross wages and incomes in Ulaanbaatar have increased from 308,700 Tugrik in 2009
to 587200 in 2012, thereby making Ulaanbaatar the prime destination for Mongolians to advance
their financial position (M.A.D. Investment Solutions 2013).
Ulaanbaatar has also been adamant about establishing academic, research, foreign
program and nongovernmental organization connections. Mongolian government and academic
institutions have aggressively begun to establish and broaden tiesnew programs include
scientific collaborations, exchanges of scholars, and the placing of Mongolian students in foreign
universities and laboratories (Badarch, Zilinskas, and Balint 2003, xvii). More and more
educational institutions are constructed each year and are littered throughout the city, with 88.5%
of all of Mongolias universities, 28% of schools, and 7.4% of libraries situated in Ulaanbaatar
(NSO 2010; Chilkhaasuren and Baasankhuu 2012). Mongolia contains a high literacy rate with
97% of the total population, although this has decreased from 99% during the past 20 years since
the government shut down certain social and educational programs (M.A.D. Investment
Solutions 2013). Due to its increasing academic standard and culture, the city is becoming a host
to modern innovations and think tanks. For instance, the First International Ulaanbaatar
Conference on Nuclear Physics and Applications was hosted in Ulaanbaatar in 2008, where
scientists from Mongolia and all reaches of the world met to discuss and contribute ideas and
findings on nuclear research (Dashdorj, Agvaaniuvsan, and Mitchell 2008). Moreover, 329 out of
the 549 non-governmental organizations in Mongolia are based in Ulaanbaatar (UNDP 2012).
The attraction of academic institutions and conferences and both international and
non-governmental organizations to Ulaanbaatar is parallel with the citys urban planning to
foster cosmopolitanism and globalization in the inner city and to broaden the reach of
Ulaanbaatars international influence.

Neoliberal Advanced Marginality


With the neoliberalization of Ulaanbaatar combined with a city population explosion, these
forces have set forth problematic urban processes in Ulaanbaatar. The mixture of Mongolian and
foreign migrants, tourists, workers, and politicians have fueled urban concentration, expansion
and fragmentation in Ulaanbaatar (Brenner 2013). Through these urban processes, advanced
marginality has become prominent throughout the city. Loc Wacquant described advanced
marginality as urban poverty and social destitution containing properties of fragmented
wage-labor, dysfunctional economic trends, uneven sociospatial developments, and social
alienation (Wacquant 1996). Components of this advanced marginality exist in Ulaanbaatar
because the increasing rich/poor divide has shifted urban landscapes. Thus, the division has
forced migrants who cannot afford downtown housing to locate in the sprawling ger districts,
while rich gated communities have become entrenched in Ulaanbaatars downtown.
The economic inequality and unbalanced urban and capital growth of the city further
divides the gap between the rich and poor, due to the elimination of jobs for unskilled workers in
favor of jobs for professionals or those with an university-level education. Rural Mongolians that
come from a herder and pastoral background cannot find work, as they are mostly uneducated
and dont have skills competent for the commercial and service industries. Although below the
national average of 7.4%, the unemployment rate has increased annually in Ulaanbaatar with a
current rate of 6.4%. However, the percentage of unemployed individuals could be higher than
indicated, due to many that are undocumented (MONSIS 2015). Only 32 percent of Mongolias
total population now reside in rural areas, while 71% are in urban areas, with the percentage
rising yearly (The World Factbook 2015). Additionally, 60% of all urban residents in Mongolia
are located in Ulaanbaatar (Gochoosuren 2013). Since most urban Mongolians are located in
Ulaanbaatar, the city is experiencing an absolute surplus population. The labor force has become
flooded with those attracted to the city for work and as a result, many cannot find employment or
have low-wage paying jobs.
This sociospatial fragmentation has created dismal conditions in ger neighborhoods, as
those living in the ger areas have been excluded from economic opportunities, basic living
resources, and human and public services. Since 1992, the ger districts have increased by 65%
(Byambadorj, Amati, and Ruming 2011). Close to 57% of Ulaanbaatars population now live in
the sprawling ger areas, but other sources state that this number could be as high as 70%, due to
some residents not being registered under the city nor having participated in surveys and
observations (Altantuya, Zhang, and Li 2012; Buyandalai et al. 2013). At the same time,
residents living in downtown Ulaanbaatar have access to most of the citys resources, social
services, financial and political institutions, entertainment, and transportation networks.
Although Ulaanbaatars poverty line was only at 19.8% in 2012, 7.6% below the national
average, around 30% of Ulaanbaatars ger district population fall under the poverty line
(Markowitz 2013; MONSIS 2015).
The urban problems in Ulaanbaatar may be caused by neoliberalism practices that
encourage massive sociospatial restructuring amidst uneven capital development. Brenner and
Theodore (2002, 355) argue that:

some places, territories, and scales are systematically privileged over and against others
as sites for capital accumulation. The resultant patterns of core-periphery polarization and
sociospatial inequality exist at all spatial scales; their contours are never inscribed
permanently upon the geographical landscape but are continually reworked through

capitals dynamic of uneven spatial development.

The unbalanced sociospatial development in Ulaanbaatar directs capital growth in the inner city
with advanced marginality in the ger districts on the periphery. This persistence of rampant
neoliberalization has continued urban fragmentation, expansion of the destitute ger districts, and
concentration of wealth and resources downtown.
Parallel to the neoliberal restructuring of Mongolias economic and government
strategies, the governments privatization of land has allowed for mismanaged sociospatial
expansion. After the transition in 1990, there was no substantial government or urban planning to
regulate the disorderly neoliberalization and privatization of Ulaanbaatar until the approval of the
Master Plan of 2020 in 2002. The 2020 Plan was to provide needed regulation, but it was poorly
implemented due to conflicting laws, uncoordinated projects, corruption, and misunderstandings
of the objectives of the plan between city officials and residents (Byambadorj, Amati, and
Ruming 2011). The overlap of traditional, socialist, and neoliberal urbanisms and the disordered
spatiality of privatized and state-owned land sabotaged the Plan, as it was unable to address the
issues of the city through its various strains of urbanisms. One of the main reasons for its
incompetence was from many of the professionals involved in drafting the Plan had backgrounds
in architecture rather than urban planning. Thus, the Master Plan appropriated a design and
construction based stratagem, rather than an urban planning approach that wouldve
encompassed economic, social, cultural, and environmental forces into the action of the Plan
(ADB 2013a).
Another reason for the disorderly sociospatial expansion was the amended 1994 Law on
Land amended in 2002. The law states that all Mongolian citizens registered in Ulaanbaatar are
permitted up to .07 hectares of free land (The World Bank 2015). After the laws creation, there
was a massive and chaotic scramble of Mongolians acquiring and registering land. Since every
individual in a household is entitled to land, spacious plots scattered throughout Ulaanbaatar
were all owned by the same household. An individual or family who found available land
displayed ownership by erecting a hashaa (fenced-in settlement). Almost every ger residence in
the districts contains a hashaa, although it does not legally signify land ownership. Many
Mongolians did not understand the concept of land ownership and privatization, as those from
rural areas associated land with traditional Mongolian mobile and nomadic pastoralism with
fenceless borders (Myadar 2009). If a Mongolian wanted to set up their housing in anothers
hashaa that has not been legally entitled by the government, that individual could register the
land and force the other out. The governments lack of direction for privatized development and
settlement of land has thus led to rapid and mismanaged urbanization along with a sprawling,
low-density urban scene, causing major issues in the ger areas.

Consequences of Advanced Marginality

One of the major effects of Ulaanbaatars urbanism from advanced marginality and
neoliberalism was land degradation. Uncontrolled land attainment and improper usage have
mainly led to overgrazing, deforestation, abusive mining, and soil and water pollution from
factories located near the ger proximities.

Figure 5. Image of factories stationed near ger proximities. Source: Authors photograph, 2012.

The absence of any significant law or master plan after the nations conversion to a
democratic state allowed for the disintegration of green areas during the neoliberalization of
Ulaanbaatar, and only until after the Master Plan of 2030 were the declining green areas given
any attention (Byambadorj, Amati, and Ruming 2011). Green tracts from the Soviet era were
taken over for ger settlements, apartment complexes or parking structures, or were simply eroded
by poor land maintenance. In 1990 there was an average of 10 hectares of green plots in the city
but by 2008, there were only half as many hectares left (Surenjav 2008). Childrens Park, once
the proud 35-acre public recreational green area in the heart of downtown Ulaanbaatar, has been
reduced to a fraction of its original size, with most of its land now used for plans for a luxury
hotel and other privatized constructions (Jacob 2012). Although there have been initiatives for

2 Markowitz, Marissa L. 2013. Challenges in the Global Food System and Implications for a Sustainable Food System in Mongolia.

Masters thesis, School for International Training Graduate Institute.
Nriagu, Jerome, Dong-Ha Nam, Titilayo A. Ayanwola, Hau Dinh, Erdenebayar Erdenechimeg, Chimedsuren Ochir, and Tsend-Ayush

Bolormaa. 2011. High Levels of Uranium in Groundwater of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Science of The Total Environment 414: 722-726.

protecting and procuring green areas before the current Master Plan of 2020 up to 2030, the lack
of coordination between government and non-government agencies and confusion among the
various privatization regulations and urban planning strategies have minimized any significant
advances in green area development.
The shortage of infrastructures and human services has also been a stark issue in the ger
neighborhoods. The mass influx of people put pressure on government urban institutions,
programs, and resources and therefore, could not properly accommodate every resident. Ger
inhabitants cite an absence of roads, health services, schools, and parks in their districts (Kamata
et al. 2010). In rural environments, ger settlements are efficiently sustainable shelters with a
small ecological impact, but in the overcrowded, poorly monitored ger districts in Ulaanbaatar,
they have overwhelmed the waste management infrastructures (Caldieron and Miller 2013).

Figure 6. Rural ger left and periphery ger district right. Source: Authors photograph, 2012.

Due to the citys beleaguered and defective waste management and garbage collection systems,
water and soil pollution have made ger district living conditions problematic. Wastes have
seeped into watersheds and wells, contaminating water sources and spreading diseases (Nriagu et
al. 2011). Industrial factories, cheap and inefficient coal stoves, and vehicles have produced air
pollution that visibly blankets the city, making Ulaanbaatar one of the worlds most polluted
cities (Rayman 2013).
As for local accounts, residents have commented on traffic congestion, pedestrian and
vehicle hazards, and pollution. Citizens have also expressed dissent on the citys rapidly
changing culture. The commercial, financial, and structural transformations in Ulaanbaatar are
too fast-paced for traditional Mongolian customs to balance. The negative effects of these
economic and financial successes in Ulaanbaatar have affected the lifestyles of those in the city,
including rising poverty and crime rates. Crime rates in Ulaanbaatar rose 19% in 2013, mainly
due to non-confrontational transgressions against foreigners (OSAC 2014). Migrants
transitioning from rural and traditional environments to unfamiliar urban housing do not have
documentation, as those living in the countryside were not required to attain paperwork for
births, land ownership, identification, and medical histories. Without documentation many
cannot gain access to Ulaanbaatar schools, medical care, formal employment, and social services
(Behan 2011). Those who have recently moved to the city from rural areas view Ulaanbaatar

3 Feed, TuRuu, 2012, personal interview with author, Ulaanbaatar, August 27.

Chuluunkuu, Dr. Chimgee, 2012, personal interview by author, Ulaanbaatar, August 27.

residents as lazy, irresponsible, and disrespectful. They also perceive Ulaanbaatar locals as
having lost Mongolian cultural and traditional values such as hospitality and honor. Through
both qualitative and quantitative analyses, it is unmistakable that these developments of
commercialization, globalization, modernization, and neoliberalization, have influenced
residents of the city to negatively view Ulaanbaatar and its evolving urbanisms.

More Neoliberal Repercussions and the Chinese Sphere of Influence

Mongolias economy rapidly expanded as a result of both foreign private and state investment
into its natural resource and mining sectors, though investment and growth have tapered down
since 2013. This has been from dropping coal prices, diminishing export destinations, inflation,
and high default risks on its international debts (Dominguez 2014). Mongolias economy and
political direction is very much tied to the geopolitics of Russia and China, with both nations
heavily investing into the country. Russia and China both realize the importance of Mongolia not
only as a strategic geopolitical neighbor, but also that of a country containing significant
amounts of untapped and unclaimed natural resources. With both states vying for political
leverage with the Mongolian Parliament, China has had the biggest impact in affecting
Mongolias political and financial direction.
China accounts for a sizable portion of Mongolias export destinations and financial
transactions. Besides investment in Mongolian mining and natural resources, Chinese companies
and state-owned enterprises have also been pouring billions of dollars into transportation and
energy infrastructures, construction and real estate, including a new sports stadium and Central
Place Tower in downtown Ulaanbaatar. Chinas visible presence comprises the largest amount of
foreign-controlled enterprises in Mongolia at around five thousand (Shih 2013). While Chinas
relationship with Mongolia has been crucial for Mongolias economic growth and international
relevance, paradoxically, Sinophobia has spread throughout the Mongol population. Many
Mongolians fear a growing financial dependence on Chinese investments and being located next
to the rising superpower, would allow China to take regional, political and economic control over
Mongolia. Some Mongolians iterate that the law denying non-Mongolian nationals from owning
land can be easily bypassed and that Chinese enterprises could instill a financial imperialistic
hegemony over Mongolia through land and property possession (Myadar 2009). Bitter memories
from an imperialized, tempestuous history combined with negative reactions to the immigration
of Chinese migrants and businesses have increased resentment against China (Myadar and Rae
2015). A Sinophobic rhetoric has gained popularity amongst Mongolians, with accounts of
brutality by the Chinese in both Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, a Chinese province containing
over four million ethnic Mongols. One instance was a Mongol man in Inner Mongolia beaten to
death and other Mongols injured while defending their grazing lands from being taken over by
Chinese workers (SMHRIC 2013). Most of these reports are biased or unaccredited, but they
have fashioned a nationalist, fear-mongering narrative and have swayed racial and xenophobic
tensions in Mongolia (Li 2011). Chinese migrants in Ulaanbaatar looking for work have made
Mongols resentful of their presence, believing the Chinese are there to steal jobs from Mongolian
workers. Attacks on ethnic Chinese by Sinophobic Mongols have increased in recent years,

4 Badamdorj, Prof. Chinbat, 2012, personal interview with author, Ulaanbaatar, August 21.
5 Anonymous taxi driver, 2012, personal interview with author, Ulaanbaatar, August 24.

contributing to the rising crime rates in Ulaanbaatar (OSAC 2014).

These Sinophobic feelings have had dramatic effects in the Mongol political realm as
well. Mongolian politicians are bandwagoning onto these anti-Chinese resentments in order to
garner more votes and support (Li 2011). Anxiety over Chinese financial dominance has
provoked Mongolian legislature and economic reforms that favor other nations. One of such is
the 2012 Strategic Entities Foreign Investment Law, which states that foreign state-controlled
takeovers of strategic economic and natural resource enterprises of over 70 million dollars, most
importantly mining, banking, and tourism, must be approved by the Mongolian Parliament. On
paper, the laws purpose is for the Mongolian government to effectively manage and monitor all
foreign state-owned companies bidding for the rights to operate in Mongolian economic sectors.
However, the rationale behind its creation was to block the takeover of SouthGobi Resources by
the largest Chinese state-owned mining company, Chalco. Another instance is a recent proposal
to expand northern Mongolian railways to Russian destinations, allowing access to markets other
than China (Dominguez 2014). The Mongol government has also expanded trade and talks with
supplemental neighbors, including Canada, India, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. (Javzandorj
and Dehong 2012).
Contrary to these steps taken by the Mongolian government, minimizing Mongolias
reliance on Chinese economic activities has yet to be seen. Trade networks with Russia and other
countries have not yielded the massive financial transactions needed to abdicate Chinese
economic dominance, with Canada and Russia consisting of only 3.6% and 1.4% respectively in
Mongolian export destinations (Dominguez 2014). While motions have been initiated to reduce
Chinese influence, the significance of the economic relationship with China is paramount to
Mongolias financial growth and consequently, its direction in managing the urbanization and
urbanism of Ulaanbaatar.

Chinese Socialist Urbanism and Compact City Urbanism

Contrary to Mongolias social and political actions with China, the urban planners of
Ulaanbaatar have embraced an urbanization strategy similar to the urbanism makeup of many
Chinese cities. Comparable to Soviet Socialist urbanism, Chinese Socialist urbanism promotes
an egalitarian social space that is state owned and operated, while at the same time maximizes
productivity and labor. Unlike Soviet Socialist urbanism, Chinese Socialist urbanism functioned
through the danwei system, where socialist spatial centrality aligned with traditional family
social orders of China, all under Communist governmental supervision (Bray 2005). The danwei
system was at the core of urban life in China, with its creation to organize the urban migration of
rural residents. The implementation of the hukou policy, in which migrants were issued a work
order by the government, allowed those registered to move to the city and officially reside in the
danwei. Commercialization was inhibited in the danwei, as the government focused economic
growth with employment entities connected to hukou policy. The danwei urban space itself was
displayed as a company town, wherein all danwei workers were associated with the same
company or institution, and those without a work order were often shunned or denied (Friedmann

6 Backes, Oliver. 2013. China at the Gates: Chinas Impact on Mongolian Natural Resource and Investment Policy. Center for Strategic &

International Studies, May 6. Accessed 23 April 2015.

2005). Currently, the danwei have declined in importance and impact, but recent urbanization
approaches by the Chinese government have been modeled on the danwei system. One of such is
the xiaoqu, an updated danwei block that brings services and facilities within an enclosed,
communally oriented, residential compound, although now under the control of professional
property management (Hill 2005). The urbanism and urbanization of Chinas cities have
changed with the shifting policies of Chinas more capitalistic economy, and the updated danwei
format has reflected this. The transition from Chinese socialism to a post-socialist neoliberal
arrangement supervised by the communist government has provoked Chinese cities to implement
the Compact City urbanism.
The Compact City concept aims for high-density housing, efficient transportation and
infrastructure methods, expansion of community involvement, vigorous environment securities,
and proper land utilization, all of which to be used to increase the multifunctionality, production,
and sustainability of the city (Jenks, Burton, and Williams 1996). Similar to both Soviet and
Chinese Socialist urbanisms, the Compact City highlights high-density, low-cost, low-income
housing embedded with green areas, such as parks, fields, and playgrounds, but with more of an
emphasis on the sustainable connectivity between the multiple urban functions, services, and
infrastructures. To summarize the Compact City:

It [the Compact City] promotes a vision of cities with fine grained mixed use, mixed
housing types, compact form, an attractive public realm, pedestrian-friendly streetscapes,
defined centres and varying transport options. Facilities such as health, libraries, retail
and government services cluster around key public transport stations and intersections to
maximize convenience (UNHABITAT 2009, 23).

Due to the high density of the Compact City approach, travel distances to various infrastructures,
public services, and institutions would be shortened, improving accessibility. This, along with a
more effective transit system, would cut down on the reliance and usage of private motorized
vehicles, leading to a reduction of energy consumption including fossil fuels, air and noise
pollution, and traffic congestion (de Schiller and Evans 2009). Land zoning and registration
would be more manageable since buildings would be spatially ordered and administered (de
Schiller and Evans 2009). Conversely, the sprawl of urbanization, overcrowding, pollution, and
transportation congestion are all cited issues concerning the Compact City but proper urban
planning, meticulous and prolific administrative enforcement, and joint community participation
can combat and prevent such predicaments from occurring. This could transpire in the different
levels of government and in the various districts and zones as well. For example, the local
councils of the ideal Compact City can support community based solutions, protect networks of
open space while the residents highlight areas of dereliction and decay and opportunities for
enhancement and development (Burton and Matson 1996, 301).

A Comparative Analysis with Post-Soviet Moscow

Ulaanbaatars development also shares a similar trajectory with Moscow. Since the expulsion of
the communist government and the transformation into a market economy in 1991, Moscow was
greatly affected by changing neoliberal economic opportunities, the privatization of housing, and
the ghettoization of its residential districts. The changing political and financial format of

Moscow attracted many national and international entities to the city, increasing its financial
flows, trade, and services. The build-up of raw materials and goods and manufacturing
enterprises based on its position as a global city has created economic stratification and uneven
sociospatial development. Structures in downtown Moscow blossomed into modern financial
offices and many buildings were renovated after being sold to private investors by the
government. To improve its reputation as a global city, the city has begun reordering its focus
from a political and industrial entity under Soviet rule to a more commercialized functionality
(OLoughlin and Kolossov 2013). Both cities have had issues with uneven sociospatial and urban
development, poorly housed inhabitants, social polarization, and crumbling housing and
infrastructures. Both Ulaanbaatar and Moscow have diverted resources to support new
developments throughout their cities with an emphasis on urban sustainability, while attempting
to sculpt their city centers to support global commerce and finance. However, Ulaanbaatar and
Moscow differ in their strategies for multiple solutions to their ailments. The Muscovite city
administration aims to support and update traditional city infrastructure, though it hasnt had
enough funds to construct modern apartment blocks in the Moscow ghettos. However,
Ulaanbaatar has access to Chinese investment capital as well as blueprints, forcing a more
radical reshaping of the citys urbanism and urbanization.

Soviet and Compact City Urbanism Hybridization

Ulaanbaatars urban foundation was established by Soviet era urbanism that favored compact,
mixed-use complexes that privileged state-based functions including the State Opera and Ballet
Theatre, Sukhbaatar Square, and the Government Palace. However, these socialist era buildings
are being reordered to erase Ulaanbaatars communist urban characteristics and to replace them
with an idealistic Mongolian identity. With Sukhbaatar Squares renaming to Chinggis Square
and the deconstruction and reconstruction of Sukhbaatars mausoleum into a gigantic monument
honoring Chinggis Khan, this symbolic rebranding of communist entities supplies Ulaanbaatars
infrastructure with an indigenous cultural overlay to a new Compact City urbanism.
Unlike Soviet urbanism, the Ulaanbaatar Compact City format does not require space to
be employed as a stage for flexing government control or military parades. Instead, buildings
have been constructed or reordered to house the neoliberal urbanization sprawl through
privatized management under the Compact City strategy. Whereas Soviet blocks and Chinese
xiaoqu focused on containing residents inside the complexes under a communist government,
residential areas in Ulaanbaatar have concentrated on developing privatized mixed-use space
with closer access to transit corridors for reaching other parts of the city. Apartment complexes
have increasingly reflecting this approach, with buildings integrating residential, retail, office,
travel, and recreational entities (Gombodorj and Badamdorj 2010).

Summary of the 2030 Master Plan

In 2002, the government approved the Master Plan for up to 2020. The central objective of the
Plan was to construct affordable housing and apartment blocks for low and medium income
families, improve water and waste management by establishing pure underground water supplies
and upgrade infrastructures including transportation, social services, and (Gochoosuren 2013). It
called for the installation of over 6,100 housing units in six of Ulaanbaatars underdeveloped
districts, along with a community-led development plan in poor urban areas of the city with

contracting local ger residents for the construction of various urban amenities (The World Bank
2013). The Plan originally intended to have commenced in the mid 1990s, but the reordering of
the Mongolian government after the transition, a lack of money and technologies, and proposal
delays, the Plan started well behind schedule (M.A.D. Investment Solutions 2013).
Consequently, the Plan disintegrated after the explosion of the newly neoliberalized and
privatized market economy and massive population migration to Ulaanbaatar.
From these unexpected and underestimated forces, government officials developed a new
Master Plan to rationalize and contain the expansion, fragmentation, and sociospatial
concentration in Ulaanbaatar. Approved in 2013 with a completion date of 2030, the new Master
Plan highlights the rearrangement of Ulaanbaatars urbanisms. The logic of post-socialist,
neoliberal Chinese city urbanism facilitated by the Compact City was presented as an approach
to improve the similar post-socialist, neoliberal urbanism situation of Ulaanbaatar. Although not
directly cited in the new Master Plan of 2030, elements of the Compact City urbanism have been
situated throughout its strategies (Buyandalai et al. 2013; The Asia Foundation 2014). The
Compact City urbanism was been employed to deconstruct and reconstruct the city into a format
that urbanizes and reorganizes urban sprawl, reduces advanced marginality, promotes
sustainability and connects all the urbanisms together to form a cohesive and identifiable
Ulaanbaatar urban map.

Figure 7. Map of Ulaanbaatar urbanisms. Source: OpenStreetMap contributors. 2015. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia [map]. Scale
undetermined; generated by Alexander M. Acton; using OpenStreetMap contributors CC BY-SA Open Database License.
<> (24 July 2015).

Figure 8. Map of Ulaanbaatar city center urbanisms. Source: OpenStreetMap contributors. 2015. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
[map]. Scale undetermined; generated by Alexander M. Acton; using OpenStreetMap contributors CC BY-SA Open Database
License. <> (22 July 2015).

With the failures and miscalculations of the 2020 Master Plan, the 2030 Master Plan was
proposed to accurately ameliorate the sociospatial complications and ger district dilapidation,
develop Ulaanbaatar into a vibrant, sustainable, globalized city, decentralize the capital through
the construction of satellite cities, and rationalize the competing urbanisms of the city.
First, the 2030 Master Plan put forward a flexible land use zoning system that classified
the Ulaanbaatar vicinity into seven zones: residential, commercial, industrial, green/open space,
mixed use, engineering infrastructure, and specialized usage (The Asia Foundation 2014). A
state-of-the-art GIS (geographic information system) setup and computer database has been
installed in order to efficiently catalogue and store land zoning, classification, and usage
information. Through the GIS, Ulaanbaatars urbanisms would be easily identified through land
cataloguing, allowing the Compact City to improve and reorder the other urbanisms. By
identifying the land for specific functions, the government can advantageously regulate the type
and amount of development in that area, with each zone containing specific requirements for
land usage. Through this system, the administration can bolster the current city structure while
controlling the urban sprawl and preserving valuable green space. Based on Compact City
recommendations, the Plan highlights a green belt surrounding the city limits to be an official
and visible boundary for Ulaanbaatars urban growth (UNHABITAT 2009). The green belt will
be separated into monitored land usage: agriculture, rural communities, summer camps, natural
preservations, and recreational and tourist sites. The development-restricted Bogd Khan National
Park, Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, and sensitive areas of the Tuul River will be incorporated into

the belt, adding governmental-protected regions to the urban growth buffer (The Asia
Foundation 2014).
Secondly, the Plan promoted the decentralization of inner Ulaanbaatar by boosting
sustainable housing and infrastructure developments in ger districts. At the same time, satellite
neighborhoods will be constructed around the citys periphery, bolstering migration out from
Ulaanbaatar. Currently, Ulaanbaatar has one enormous city center but the 2030 Plan promotes
the formation of six new district-level sub-centers, each containing government and social
services, shopping centers, khoroo administration buildings, banks, hospitals, schools, and
community institutions promoting cultural and social events and activities (Buyandalai et al.
2013; The Asia Foundation 2014). Another major project displayed in the Master Plan was the
build-up of a large residential area near Chinggis Khan International Airport, capable of housing
60,000 people (Urban Planning, Research and Design Institute 2012). The average height of
buildings in Ulaanbaatar is two stories, but with the projected growth of the city and new
regional development planning, urban planners are increasing the average height to five stories.
Around 2,000 hectares of high-rise, mixed use, residential structures are scheduled to be erected
by 2030 in Ulaanbaatar, with most concentrated in the ger districts (Urban Planning, Research
and Design Institute 2012). Any structures not earthquake resistant in the ger areas will be torn
down and replaced with new housing structures and fragmented ger neighborhoods will be
reordered into apartment blocks with revamped sanitation facilities, waste management
infrastructures, and recreational areas. Peri-urban ger districts containing subserviced plots and a
lack of property rights will also experience developments and restructuring. The Plan
incorporates the fringe ger areas to be divided into legal property entitlements, allowing for
easily apparent land ownership, tracking and classification. The installation of infrastructures and
government and social services will all be coordinated and monitored by the recently established
Ger Area Redevelopment Authority, solely responsible for improving fringe ger district
conditions (The Asia Foundation 2014; ADB 2013b).
Thirdly, the improvement of transportation services and reduction of traffic congestion is
also a main focus of the Master Plan. The Plan highlights the construction of a 17.7 km long
metro subway, with elevated and underground stations in the city (Buyandalai et al. 2013). A
modernized bus transit system is also featured to accommodate the increasing city population.
Roads will be widened for bus corridors, and routes will be updated to reduce bus overlap and
shorten commute times. The city center and proposed six sub-centers will be connected by nine
north-south corridors, six east-west corridors, and four ring roads, including 1204 km in
newly-constructed roads (The Asia Foundation 2014). The formation of transport channels in ger
districts will allow ger residents to have better access to downtown amenities. As a result,
communities will be conveniently linked and Ulaanbaatars urbanisms more interconnected and
designed. To reduce the congestion of air traffic while increasing tourism, the construction of a
new international airport 60 km south of the city is underway, with the goal of being operational
in 2016. The airport will have the capacity to receive three million passengers a year, as opposed
to the current airport receiving only one million. The buildup of more facilities and hangars for
plans increase the amount of tourists and expand international trade and air transport. There are
also plans to build a satellite city around the new airport capable of housing around 100,000
inhabitants, titled Aero City (Zoljargal 2013). The city will be connected by a major highway
and railway, allowing easier access to and from Ulaanbaatar while also decentralizing the city
(Gochoosuren 2013; The Asia Foundation 2014).

A Critique of the Master Plan Up to 2030

While strategies for implementing Compact City urbanism were optimistic for managing
Ulaanbaatar fragmentation and expansion and reducing advanced marginality, they instead
succumbed to the continued misunderstandings of the citys complicated systematic problems.
The Plan attempts to address the issues of the city through reassembling the traditional,
neoliberal, and socialist urbanisms with the Compact City urbanism and has improved sectors of
the city with advancements in housing and infrastructure. However, the destructive stitching of
these urbanisms fueled by outside investors, miscommunication and contrived predictions by
urban planners and city officials, and an underestimation of Ulaanbaatars cultural, historical,
and social forces have rendered the Master Plan design futile and have endangered the unique
and indigenous culture of the city. The lack of Mongolian and Ulaanbaatar government
bureaucratic and financial capacity to rationalize the logics of the five competing and
overlapping urbanisms has overwhelmed and impaired the Master Plan.
The Master Plans ineffectual Compact City urbanism is in part due to Mongolias
financial setbacks, confusion with mapping Ulaanbaatars intricate urbanisms, and a lack of
coordination between residents and officials on land ownership and registration. The Plan
created departments responsible for mapping the city and registering property while other
programs were already established. This duplication of land ownership services has muddled the
capability for clear land registration, and has confused the Tax Department in which lands have
or havent been taxed (The World Bank 2015). Some residents dont have access to land
registration offices, or applications for registration have been misplaced due to poorly trained
staff, thereby leaving many properties and gers unaccounted for. The confusion and lethargy in
land and property registration and taxation has led to inefficiency in the government collecting
revenue for residents ownership, along with conflicting data on claimed and unclaimed land.
Properties that are taxed are based on their property book value and not their adjusted market
value, thereby minimizing the total revenue that could be collected (The World Bank 2015). The
disarray of land ownership could also discombobulate urban planners with reordering the gers
into high-rise, compacted apartment blocks, putting another hurdle in front of the Master Plan.
Another predicament has been the problematic relationship between government
officials, district representatives, and ground-level activists. Community-based organizations
(CBOs) have contested plans and tried to solve problems in ger districts through social
mobilization and community activism, but many of these programs lack the funds for providing
large-scale improvements. This is a result of low social and economic capital in the districts and
at the same time, social polarization has concentrated resources into the more prominent and
economically pertinent districts. Another main issue has been from unqualified staff
mismanaging funds, data, and research, while other stations are completely absent of workers
(The World Bank 2015). Some of the migrants that have moved to Ulaanbaatar do not identify
with the citys community or feel removed from social institutions, thereby reducing the impact
of social mobilization and community engagement (Cities Alliance 2010).
With procedures for the construction of the Aero City, along with subsequent satellite
cities, the Master Plan assumes that upon their completion people will flock from Ulaanbaatar to
them. The satellite cities would potentially reduce the total amount of migration to Ulaanbaatar,
but it might not attract those already residing in the city with allocated land. Ulaanbaatar has an

established financial system, national and international mining and natural resource industries,
contemporary and technological enterprises, and tourism attractions, of which those benefitting
from such forces would be reluctant to separate from them. Furthermore, social polarization and
economic competition would favor wealthier citizens and businesses relocating to the satellite
cities, allowing them to claim properties with more desirable amenities and resources. At the
same time, disadvantaged migrants would still face land possession and infrastructure
obtainment issues, similar to the situation in Ulaanbaatar. Without proper financial,
governmental, cultural, and social institutions, there could a strong possibility that the strategy of
the satellite cities would backfire.

Negotiation of cultural space in Ulaanbaatar

Ulaanbaatar does not have the administrational capacity sufficient for the planning of
Ulaanbaatar. In addition, the expectation in Chinese models of and expertise in the Compact City
urbanism reforming Ulaanbaatar have been problematic for maintaining and protecting the citys
indigenous and distinctive urban culture. Resultant from the citys remodeling into the Compact
City, ger residents have negotiated contested space through traditional Mongolian cultural values
still being appropriated in the districts. Ger areas possess a native culture known to Mongolians
for centuries; a person born upon the land they hold forms a sense of belonging and a natural
connection with the land itself. After the conversion to a democratic state, the ideology Mal, Hel,
Hil, (herds, language, border) was promoted to form an original and nationalistic Mongolian
identity before Chinese and Russian influences (Myadar and Rae 2015). Mongolian nationalism
and identity was formulated through the shared memories and historic scope of Chinggis Khans
territorialization. Through this, Mongolian land was seen as more than just owned property, it
was the ancestral soil from which Chinggis Khan originated from and came to amass a great
empire and society. Land was inscribed to be a signifier of Mongolian national identity, pride,
and community. With this traditional heritage still prominent in the ger districts, convincing ger
residents to relocate from their privatized and spacious land into government subsidized,
compacted housing has been extremely problematic. There was no investigation into how
Mongolian cultural values attached to the land would influence the introduction of the Compact
City. The Plan did not account for the peoples cultural ties, family connections, and histories to
Ulaanbaatar and the ger regions, and forcing citizens from their familial land into housing could
be considered non-Mongolian. Urban planners did not consider the possibility that repositioning
ger residents into apartment blocks could break up family and community connections and
disrupt informal economies and trade networks.
Moreover, the Plan predicted that placing ger populace into block housing would
automatically establish a sense of unity and foster community participation. Ulaanbaatar exhibits
a mosaic of various cultural and social groups, and the unnatural combination of these factions
could potentially create apprehension. Mongolian and foreign migrants, expatriates, tourists, and
Ulaanbaatar locals all illustrate a particular relationship with Ulaanbaatar. By reordering the city
based on the Compact City model, sites that were once familiar would become unheimlich, and
the stability that the Plan proposes would instead precipitate more urban and social
Residents of Ulaanbaatar have also reinterpreted space with their own cognitive and
normative assembling. As stated before, some Mongolians perceive that the urban restructuring

of Ulaanbaatar is destructive to traditional Mongolian values. The idea that a Mongolians

natural connection to the land is being replaced by an unfamiliar compacted housing entity has
made many resistant to urbanized change in Ulaanbaatar. Emerging foreign restaurants and
shops are occupying urban space, from which Mongols are disdainful of the increasingly visible
Chinese and Korean signs. With more international migrants, expats, and visitors in Ulaanbaatar
each year, locals lament the eroding indigenous Mongolian culture being replaced by foreign
cultural, economic, and political entities. Other Ulaanbaatar residents try to avoid the city
entirely by purchasing land on the citys periphery or taking frequent trips outside Ulaanbaatar.
Through these active measures by residents for negotiating space in Ulaanbaatar, one can see
that the lofty goals of the 2030 Master Plan wont be achieved. The conflicting framework of the
Plan, combined with the resistance of cultural and social forces and a hybridization of urbanisms
in Ulaanbaatar, will affirm its inevitable failure.

This article posits a comprehensive critique of the 2030 Master Plan through the identification of
Ulaanbaatars competing urbanisms. The Plan cannot continue to foster Ulaanbaatars unique
and indigenous urban culture under a neoliberal structure while promoting the Compact City
urbanism sponsored by foreign state investors. An all-encompassing Master Plan that accounts
for more than just the urban, economic, political, and environmental functions of the city may be
a technocratic systematic approach for alleviating the pressures of the city. However,
adjustments to the current Master Plan require further accommodation, moving from a vision of
the neoliberal Compact City to one that also includes indigenous desires for ger district lifestyles.
The mechanisms to loosely stitch together a hybridized and unbound urbanism will require
supporting unique aspects of Ulaanbaatars city form as well as more standardized neoliberal
urbanisms. The Ulaanbaatar administration needs to establish a plan that supports all of the citys
urbanisms and at the same time modernizes and resolves its advanced marginalities.

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