Meet Ulzii – the founder and driving force behind the Nogoon Nuur Community Project Ulaanbaatar.
As part of our responsible tourism philosophy, we provide longterm support to Ulzii and the Nogoon Nuur Community Project Ulaanbaatar. Nogoon Nuur (Green Lake) is the the brain child of Ulziitogtokh Sodnomsenge – or Ulzii, as he is known. There are few safe community spaces within the ger districts of Ulaanbaatar – especially community spaces where children can play – but Nogoon Nuur is bucking this trend.
United Nations designated October 31st as World Cities Day with a general theme of ‘Better City, Better Life.’ Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia’s capital city, certainly has its challenges but Nogoon Nuur is making UB both a better city and therefore helping to create a better life for its local citizens. UB is situated in the Tuul River valley. It was a nomadic settlement – moving to its present location in 1778. From 1924 until the early 1990’s, Mongolia was run from the Kremlin and a course of socialist development was undertaken that was very close to the replica of the Soviet experience. A majority of UB’s downtown was designed by Soviet architects with the entire city being designed for pedestrians – built to hold 600,000 inhabitants. I’ll repeat that – 600,000 inhabitants.
So what’s the current population of the city? Approximately 1.4 million. I’ll repeat that – approximately 1.4 million. Almost three times as many as the city was initially designed for. In the last census (2010) the population density of UB was 246 persons per square kilometre (compared to 1.4-1.7 in rural areas).
More than half of the capital’s residents live in the city’s ger districts. Life in the ger district is hard but for many citizens the ger remains central to their identity. It is not just new migrants from the countryside and impoverished residents who have homes in the district. Many successful city workers live here too.
It’s not easy though. The ger district is not connected to the city’s piped central heating system that runs to many other suburbs. In winter, when temperatures can drop to -40C, raw coal, rubber and even plastics are thrown onto the stove. These toxic emissions are one of the main reasons Ulaanbaatar during the winter months is one of most polluted cities on Earth according to the World Health Organisation – especially as the city is set in a hollow between four hills and struggles for space.
The President of Mongolia recently mentioned that:
‘Ulaanbaatar is like a family living in a ger that became too small to contain all of the members of the extended family.’
Ulzii is a philanthropist (his 2015 TedExUlaanbaatar talk focused on being rewarded someday for for what you have done or are doing). In 2009, Ulzii gained approval to develop the Nogoon Nuur (Green Lake) at Denjin Myanga. He cleaned up the lake and used his savings to turn the former dumpsite into an affordable community space. In December 2012 it finally opened., offering affordable ice-skating (winter) and paddle boating (summer). In his words:
‘The kids in this area often have a very hard life. I want to give them somewhere to play.’
In the summer, he offers pedalo boats for children (and their parents) to use. In the winter, it converts to an ice-skating rink. Both experiences are affordable for local families surrounding the project. In the spring and autumn, the focus is on developing the site – maintenance, planting trees, construction of the indoor community space. Long term residents include a pair of ducks, doves and a rabbit.
Over this time Ulzii has planted over 500 trees and focused on creating a healthy, green, public space for Mongolian people, especially children in the ger area. What is most noticeable about the whole area is the lack of rubbish. Surprising in Ulaanbaatar. The local children that visit are encouraged to respect the area and to help protect it.
I love this place immensely. That’s why we include it as part of our free city walking tour of UB – making a donation per person that visits. It shows our guests a different more local side to Ulaanbaatar. A majority of international travellers opt to quickly by-pass Ulaanbaatar – maybe including a quick visit to the National History Museum or the Tumen Ekh Culture Show. However, Ulaanbaatar is so much more than just the central downtown district.
The plug (of course!). If you would like to experience the community aspect of Ulaanbaatar with us, why not try one of our Mongolia one-day experiences?
Jess @ Eternal Landscapes Mongolia