Astana has become the centre of and one of the biggest and most important cities in Kazakhstan
Q: How would you explain the government’s vision for Astana? What do you want the city to be?
A: Our city is a very young, dynamic and growing city. Astana has become the centre of and one of the biggest and most important cities in Kazakhstan. It has been the capital since 1997 and since then the city has shown dynamic growth; its investment has increased by 20 times, the size of the city has increased, and its population has increased. One of the biggest examples [of the city’s success] is that we are hosting a big event in 2017, the Expo.
There are a lot of things going on in Astana. First of all we want to increase the quality of life of our citizens, and the government has set a big goal to become one of the top 10 [global] cities for living. We are working on smart city projects. We are working on infrastructure projects, which include the roads and transport system of the city.
There is also a big project that our president [Nursultan Nazarbayev] has launched, which is Nazarbayev University. Since its launch only four years ago it has already achieved a lot of its goals. The plan is that it should become one of the best universities in the region with some of the best professionals working in [it]. The university is attracting the best professors from the US and is working [through a system of] cross co-operation with top universities, such as Duke University in the US… This should be one of the key elements in the development of the country and of the city as well, because we need a lot of young professionals; local professionals that could boost the economy and lead the country to a new level.
And Expo 2017 will boost all of these activities and developments... Right now, the government has set the goal for the city, and for the government itself, that we should all work towards and concentrate on the successful hosting of this event.
The next project for our city, the biggest project, will be the financial district – Astana International Financial Centre – which will be located at the same place where we are going to host Expo. We are having a completely different approach [from the Milan Expo in 2015]. The Milan Expo was an open event that would give away the different spots for the countries to [market themselves], but we are building an infrastructure that will be present even when Expo is finished.
So all of these buildings and the infrastructure will be transferred to a financial authority – the National Bank of Kazakhstan [the country’s central bank] – which will develop the Astana International Financial Centre, which should attract a lot of investment into the city and into the country. We are also going to have the stock exchange moved from Almaty to Astana, [along with the central bank], and that should lead to private banks moving their headquarters to Astana as well.
So you can see that a lot of developments are happening, and a lot of work will be done in the next three years.
Q: What qualities or attributes do you think Astana has that should be attractive to foreign companies? What can it offer?
A: Well, first of all [there is our] real estate market. The real estate market [in Astana] has shown a constant growth in the past 20 years, and there is a lot of real estate investment going on right now. One of the biggest real estate projects that we have is the Abu Dhabi Plaza. It is an investment of about $1bn from the United Arab Emirates and it will be the tallest building in central Asia, as well as a business hotel and residential project. It will also include a big shopping centre.
The government is very flexible at the moment and is looking to attract any investment into any sphere, and the Abu Dhabi Plaza is an example of where the government and the parliament have voted to change the laws to make this plot of land a tax-free zone to attract investment, and to give a unique setting for this project. [This is the] only way it could have been achieved.
We also have a lot of projects in our industrial zone… Construction is one of the [main industries in Astana] but you will find in the industrial park that there are a lot of different factories. It is a mixed industrial park that has a lot of different segments, and the park is already up to 80% capacity so we are launching a second industrial park. We want this industrial park to be an innovative cluster that should attract the innovative production of materials. We are still working on that, but hopefully in just a few months we will have the masterplan and the vision for this industrial park, and [it will be] absolutely free for investment. We are hoping we can attract a lot of investment to that park as well.
Q: The plans for Astana are extremely ambitious and bold. Are there any constraints that you face in achieving this vision, and how on track are you to getting where you want to be?
A: We have already achieved a lot in the years since we moved the capital. There will be problems along the way, but there will be no problems that [cannot be overcome]. If there is a goal and there is a vision, I think we should achieve everything that has been planned, especially with the vision of our president. He has set this goal, and his vision of the city, and you can see already how Astana has had a big effect on the whole of Kazakhstan.
Almaty [the previous capital] is located in the southern part of Kazakhstan. It is 150 kilometres from the border of China, and the country was more or less focused on the south. But when the capital was moved to Astana, it made a huge impact on the other regions of Kazakhstan. It had a big effect on the growth and the development of the country as a whole.
Also, Astana is a young city, where the average age of the citizens is about 29. It is a young, dynamic city with young professionals coming here to live and work. Developing Astana further would, of course, make a big impact on the country as a whole. We may have difficult times right now, in terms of the global economy, but the government is taking a lot of measures [to counter this]. We are not stopping any programmes in Astana. So I think Astana will go further than the set goals that we have.
Q: If we were to come back and visit Astana in five or 10 years, what would we find that is different from now? What kind of city will we discover then?
A: I think it will be a completely different city, and you would notice this from the moment that you arrive at the airport. The airport will be, by 2017, absolutely new, with two terminals, and with a capacity of more than 7.5 million people per year, which is double the current size. And from the airport we are going to have a wide railway [service], which will take a visitor to the centre of the city, to the Expo site, the Expo town, and it will go through the centre to the new railway station, which is a huge project.
I think we are going to have about 30 new hotels. Ten of them are five-star hotels with big brands coming in, such as Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and St Regis, and that will happen within the next two or three years, for Expo. Astana will be a very modern city [much like the newer global cities such as] Dubai.