Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan since 1997. Unlike Rome and most other capital cities, Astana has almost no history in contrast to Kazakhstan’s previous capital, Almaty. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Almaty became the first capital of Kazakhstan. Almaty was part of the silk road in the south, with a rich history dating back to the Bronze Age. This begs the question, why move the capital from the warm south to the ice cold, windy centre-north in the Steppe where this new city, Astana, is being built? Nation building, social engineering, growth limitations and the earthquake risks of Almaty were a few reasons that triggered the relocation. Astana is a planned city of 722 km2 designed for the future. It is incredibly spacious yet dynamic. Its population has grown over the past 20 years almost four-fold to 860,368 in 2016 (KAZINFORM June 22, 2016), reaching a population density 1,192 people/km2. For a comparison, about 3 million people live in Rome in 1,295 km2 (2,317 people/km2).
While living in Astana from 2013 until 2016 I had the privilege to experience the city’s growth, contrasting styles and transformation in part related to the preparation for EXPO 2017 (https://expo2017astana.com/en/). The feeling of always under construction is kind of funny because you see destruction, construction and conservation all at once. For example, in front of the apartment building I used to live in, a flat stretch of grassland with a few bushes and trees gave away to an artificial hill that will harbour a car park building covered with earth for future re-greening and recreational use. There is also fun-stuff under development: a huge shopping mall (140,000 m2) called MEGA Silk Way (The Astana Times , Dec 31, 2016), a 65 m high Ferris wheel and a water park (The Astana Times, January 13, 2017). It is quite spectacular how they turn a barren grassland into a modern first-world city in the span of a few years. It is very exciting that more people will see this rapidly developing city in EXPO 2017.