The violence of spectacle: Statist schemes to green the desert and constructing Astana and Ashgabat as urban oases

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations

Abstract

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have been home to the most impressive urban development projects in the entire post-Soviet world. Their capitals, Astana and Ashgabat, now boast uniquely monumental architecture and local leaders have invested heavily in ‘green belt’ projects to surround the cities with lush vegetation, as well as developing green and water-laden public spaces. In doing so, elites have drawn on Soviet-era ‘garden city’ idealism, as well as more recent environmental sustainability narratives. Yet these schemes are anything but sustainable. Unfolding on the arid Central Asian steppe, they depend on heavy irrigation, with water diverted from rivers that already fail to meet regional demands. Employing a comparative approach, I ask why and with what effect state planners have sought to craft Astana and Ashgabat as spectacularly green ‘urban oases,’ when their local climates should defy the logic of sustainability. In so doing, I consider urban greening in the two countries as part of a wider phenomenon of statist schemes to green the desert, which have a long and diverse history. Extending the literature on desert greening, I argue that the structural violence they manifest and perpetuate is best understood by attending to how they operate as a form of spectacle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)675-697
Number of pages23
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Volume16
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 18 2015

Keywords

  • Kazakhstan
  • Turkmenistan
  • capital city
  • desert greening
  • spectacle
  • urban greening

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies

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