For thousands of years, Mongolians have been living in gers – portable structures made of timber, felt and canvas. They are highly evolved designed objects, easy to disassemble, move and reassemble in a matter of hours without any tools or fixings. It is a perfect dwelling for the nomads. Yet, when this specific type forms the basic unit of inhabitation for the city, it has led to unsustainable urban development. Currently, each household lacks basic urban infrastructure: water is fetched from kiosks; pit latrines are dug on site; and district heating is unavailable. Air pollution is one of the worst in the world as ger residents burn coal to stay warm in double-digit negative figures in the winter months.

The proposed city masterplans and government initiatives are difficult to implement. The only mechanism to improve the overall sustainability of the city is to provide an alternative to sprawl and the outward expansion of the city. If the land-law that allows every Mongolian citizen the right to claim 0.07 hectares of land remains, and people are reluctant to give up their land, the city has to be able to densify. To densify, the land has to become more valuable in order to stimulate development. Land value can be increased by providing shared access to infrastructure, incentivizing residents to leverage development for themselves. In this way, by opening up access to low interest loans we can incrementally transform the ger districts into a viable low carbon community while still maintain land ownership with the residents themselves.

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Executive Summary

The research project “Incremental Urbanism: Ulaanbaatar’s Ger Settlements” is funded by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.