Tales of new citiesAstana, the capital of Kazakhstan, can be duly included in a list of anomalies in nature. It’s an artificial city that lies at the heart of a vast expanse of land bordered by boundless horizons on all sides and populated with dozens of skyscrapers.
The main plaza, government buildings, artificial canals, residential complexes, parks and commercial facilities line the route stretching from the main street to the Presidential Palace. Astana deserves high praise for its state-of-the-art skyscrapers and its dedication to urban planning.
However, there were objections when President Nursultan Nazarbayev deserted Almaty, a region influenced by ancient Central Asian tradition, and moved the national capital to Astana in 1997.
People said it was an inappropriate move to put the nation’s capital in a region where temperatures drop to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter.
They also questioned how the country could procure the necessary financial resources to fund the move. Nevertheless, Nazarbayev pumped money acquired from selling oil, gas and uranium from the Caspian Sea into the project.
The aim was to realize balanced national development and achieve the strategic goal of offsetting the influence of the nation’s former Russian rulers.
Many artificial cities exist around the world such as Canberra, Australia; Brasilia, Brazil; and Putrajaya, Malaysia, which is currently under construction.
Seoul, too, was a planned city built from a basic blueprint by Jeong Do-jeon, the most powerful politician of the early Joseon Dynasty, at a location chosen by Moo-hak, a monk.
The same may be said of Beijing, the center of China after the period of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.
The construction of a new capital has been a dream of rulers throughout the ages. Those who seize power, rather than succeed to the throne, tend to have such a dream.
It is generally regarded as a viable means of realizing a governing philosophy: breaking with the past.
The late former President Roh Moo-hyun might have had a similar idea with Sejong City. In fact, he paid visits to Astana, Brasilia and Putrajaya during his term in office.
However, his dream has been shattered by the Constitutional Court’s ruling, which raked over the Code of Gyeonggukdaejeon, the constitutional law of the Joseon Dynasty.
The planned new administrative center in Sejong City doesn’t seem to be a well-balanced capital. It is still tangled in the controversy surrounding its validity, although the government has already poured in funds worth 5 trillion won ($4.2 billion).
President Lee Myung-bak visited Astana on his trip to Central Asia last May. A panoramic view of the town from the Baiterek tower must have reminded him of Sejong City.
As an ex-construction company CEO and the former mayor of Seoul, does he have a plan ready to solve such a difficult problem?
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Yeh Young-june