Try surfing in landlocked Uzbekistan? Or maybe check out the dolphinarium in Tashkent, a city 2,000 kilometers away from the nearest ocean? Why not?
These are some of the more colorful aspects of an ambitious plan to transform the Uzbek capital’s Navoi National Park into a more people-friendly venue. The plan also includes construction of a flashy shopping mall and an amusement park.
Elsewhere, this kind of development might be run of the mill, but in Uzbekistan it marks a noteworthy departure. The apparent priority for Tashkent under President Islam Karimov, who died in September 2016, was to deter large groups of people from gathering in any one spot, even if merely for leisure. Roads were closed off as a security measure, trees were chopped down along a once-shaded, popular pedestrian thoroughfare, and traffic ground to a halt for 30 minutes each day as Karimov’s motorcade sped between his city center office and his countryside residence.
Money is pouring into this urban renewal initiative, which has been given the nod by the reform-minded President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
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Paul Bartlett is an Almaty-based freelance writer.