August 18, 2015

A View from Osh, Kyrgyzstan

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The City of Osh, in southwest Kyrgyzstan, is looking to modernize its transport system and urban development to support vibrant, livable spaces for people. Kyrgyzstan is a land locked country in Central Asia, surrounded by Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and China. As the second largest city in the country, after the capital, Bishkek, Osh has a total population of approximately 250,000 people. With car ownership on the rise in recent years, Osh wants to make a shift and focus on growing sustainably.

Officials are preparing to update Osh’s Five-Year Master Plan. To gain insights into best practices in urban development from around the post-Soviet region and the world, the city recently held the Osh Urban Forum. Presenting the principles of the TOD Standard, ITDP Global Research Manager Michael Kodranksy noted that, despite many local resident’s cautions about road-width, Osh’s streets have ample space, and “there are many options for street design that would comfortably fit pedestrians, cyclists and public transport”.

Osh Urban ForumOsh has inherited good infrastructure. Walkable streets are lined with tree plantings that serve as large canopies to protect pedestrians from the harsh sunny climate. Open drainage canals, called “aryks” in Central Asia, are a water feature in the street design that help cool streets. However, many of the city’s arterial roads were built for trams and buses and are not designed for the large numbers of private cars currently in use. Nevertheless, with conscious design, Osh’s streets could support a range of sustainable transport choices.

Unfortunately, many of Osh’s newest buildings are not conducive to vibrant streets. Newer developments in Osh tend to be setback from the street with fences or concrete walls, deadening the streets and creating an unfriendly walking environment. Instead, active and transparent building frontages are needed to keep the walking environment engaging and pleasant. The new car-centric developments have driveways that disrupt the pedestrian path, further eroding any prioritization of pedestrians.

Officials in Osh are continuing to debate how the city could grow in the coming years based on best practices.  Maintaining the city’s existing high quality walking facilities, while adding new cycling and public transit infrastructure around integrated development, will help guide Osh toward a more people-centric future.

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