Meet Ulziitogtokh Sodnomsenge – or Ulzii, as he is known – the founder and driving force behind the Uuliin Nuur Community Project in Ulaanbaatar – Mongolia’s capital city. There are few safe community spaces in Ulaanbaatar – especially community or public spaces where children can play safely – but Uuliin Nuur is bucking this trend. And we are very proud to work in long-term local community partnership with Ulzii.
Ulaanbaatar is situated in the Tuul River valley. It was a nomadic settlement – moving to its present location in 1778. From 1924 until the early 1990s, Mongolia was run by the Kremlin and a course of socialist development was undertaken that was very close to the replica of the Soviet experience. This planned, centrally located area remains one of Ulaanbaatar’s two distinct urban forms. The other is the semi-formal, unplanned ‘ger areas’ that encircle the city.
Ulaanbaatar’s central downtown was initially designed by Soviet architects to house 600,000 pedestrians, the current population of the city is 1.5 million – almost three times as many as the city was initially designed for. Although Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world with an average population density of 2.0 people per square kilometre, Ulaanbaatar has a population density of 312 people per square kilometre (2020 census). Of the close to 1.5 million residents of Ulaanbaatar, 60% live in the ger areas. A previous president of Mongolia 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.’
Many challenges are faced by those living in Ulaanbaatar – especially those living in the ger districts. ‘The ger areas are composed of both traditional gers and self-built detached houses, but the main identifying factor for the ger areas is that none of the households are connected to the core infrastructure of central heating, running water, or plumbing. Over the past 25 years, Ulaanbaatar’s population has more than doubled due to the rapid rate of migration of former nomadic herders into the city. For a country that has maintained a nomadic herding culture for centuries, living in an urban environment is a brand new phenomenon that presents infrastructural, political, and social problems.’ (Ger Hub)
But the Uuliin Nuur Community Project founded by Ulzii is helping to make one area of the ger districts a better area to live in.
Ulzii is a philanthropist. (Although he wouldn’t describe himself as one, his 2015 TedExUlaanbaatar talk focused on being rewarded someday for what you have done or are doing.) In 2009, Ulzii gained approval to develop the Uuliin Nuur (Mountain Lake) in the ger district area known as Denjin Myanga. He cleaned up the area – it was a quarry for the city’s construction during the socialist regime (from 1946 to the late 1960s) and turned into a dumping ground after its closure and used his savings to turn the former dumpsite into a green garden in the middle of ger areas for the public and an affordable community space – especially for children living in the area. He opened the ice rink in the winter of 2012 and officially opened Uuliin Nuur in May 2014. In Ulzii’s 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 and 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, and construction of the indoor community space which Ulzii uses to provide free education to the local children including English & music lessons. Long-term residents include a pair of ducks, doves, and a rabbit.
Over 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 (and adults) that visit are encouraged to respect the area and to help protect it.
We love this place immensely. That’s why we include it as part of our free city walking tour of Ulaanbaatar – making a donation per EL guest that visits. On our family trips, we arrange and fund for the visiting children to purchase and donate reading books to the Uuliin Nuur community space. Here’s a recent message from Ulzii to EL and our guests during the Covid pandemic:
‘I really … appreciate your donation for our community to support Uuliin Nuur in this difficult situation. I always try to use donations from people for necessary things … I paid my land tax for (the) first season of the year. That has really helped me. I always thankful for you and your (tourism) family who always support our Uuliin Nuur. Wish you all the best and health.’⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Visiting the Uuliin Nuur Community Project in Ulaanbaatar shows our guests a different more local side to Mongolia’s capital city. A majority of international travellers opt to quickly bypass 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. We’re proud to work in long-term local community partnership with Ulzii and be part of this remarkable space. 🇲🇳❤️⠀⠀
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