Physical construction defined the last two decades for Astana; the future will be defined by making it smart.
In 2018, Astana celebrated its 20th anniversary as the capital of Kazakhstan. Arising from the wilderness of the steppe in the epicenter of Eurasia to become a modern capital capable of hosting successful international events such as Expo 2017, the city’s authorities have been reflecting on this momentous journey and reimaging the endless possibilities of what the next two decades could bring.
Speaking at the “Astana — 20 years of development and innovation” forum in January 2018, the city’s Mayor, Asset Issekeshev, briefly recapped Astana’s achievements. Over the past 20 years, 1,172 industrial, cultural, and public facilities were built in the capital, including administrative buildings, factories, business and shopping centers, hotels, museums, and theaters. Meeting the city’s swelling population growth—from 327,000 in 1998 to over 1 million in 2018—Astana has answered the surging demand for housing by investing USD5 billion into housing construction projects, with 1,265 multi-apartment houses and almost 180,000 apartments delivered to the market. All of these developments have had a profound impact on the city’s revenues, and thereby its contribution to the national economy. Namely, over 20 years, the volume of investment in fixed assets reached a staggering USD47 billion, while the gross regional product of the city grew 190 times, hitting USD15.5 billion in early 2018. Astana’s contribution to state budget grew 80 fold, from USD40 million in 1997 to USD3.1 billion last year. If its first two decades were best measured in bricks and mortar, the coming period will be all about elevating the capital into the digital era. Looking ahead, the strategy has shifted somewhat from sheer expansion to a more qualitative approach, that is, ensuring sustainable development, improving efficiencies, and guaranteeing the overall happiness of the young city’s citizens. This vision relates primarily to one set out by Kazakhstan’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who in 2013 instructed the city’s administration, or Akimat, to develop a set of measures that will foster Astana’s path toward becoming a smart city. The key vehicle for realizing these goals was created in the form of Astana Innovations, a subsidiary of the city administration. Speaking exclusively to TBY, the Chairman of Astana Innovation, Olzhaz Sartaev, said: “Our concept is based on the European smart city model that focuses on major areas such as smart government, smart environment, smart transportation, smart lifestyle, and smart society.” Since its founding in 2011, the entity has been engaged in a number of pilot projects to offer technology-driven solutions in various sectors like healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Projects included hospitals, schools, electronic payment systems, and street lighting. It has also been instrumental in improving safety by implementing a project—entirely funded by the private sector—to install 10,000 surveillance cameras across the city. Indeed cooperation with the private sector, not least global technology leaders, has been fundamental to Astana’s smart city strategy. As explained by Sartaev, “Our Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev visited the US in April 2017, and certain landmark agreements were signed following his trip. We cooperate with companies such as Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft on joint pilot projects such as Internet of Things (IoT) platforms.” Further highlighting the private sector’s role, Astana’s special economics zones and industrial parks are home to 58 projects connected to the smart city initiative. Thus far, 21 projects are under construction, 18 are in the project stage, and 19 are currently being registered. With effective private-public sector cooperation, whole-hearted commitment from the local authorities, and leadership from its innovation-driven Mayor Issekeshev, Astana truly seems on course to become one of the top-50 smart cities in the world. Though a long journey, the last 20 years indicate Astana’s promising trajectory.