Ecological aspect of expanding Tashkent

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (eTN) – Circumstances for my recent travel to Uzbekistan were not appropriate for me, because my doctors have advise me to keep away from any food that has animal fat and fried items for the next six months. This medical advisory, of course, stops me from taking pleasure in eating many of the exotic foods of Uzbekistan including Somsa (samosa we call it in Pakistan and India), Shish Kebab (Seekh Kabab of Indian and Pakistan), Uzbek plov cooked in animal fat, and Uzbek Non (bread) that has animal fat and milk as its basic ingredients.

My doctors have also stopped me from eating mutton and beef, and it is almost impossible for anyone to resist the exotic smells of Uzbek Plov and Shish Kebab of mutton and beef. I had no option but to just smell and not to eat. It was like a “Paradise of Addicts” where you can have hashish and heroin all around you, but you do not have a matchbox to light a cigarette to smoke.

Therefore, it was better to keep myself away from Bazaars (markets) where the exotic aroma of Uzbek food could make me crazy, and I decided to explore parks and gardens to smell flowers instead of food.

I have been traveling to Uzbekistan since 1997 when I was a consultant to the Ministry of Tourism in the government of Pakistan. I have seen all types of weather and all the colors of Uzbekistan. It is different and more beautiful in the autumn. This time my visit was to attend the Tashkent Tourism Festival that was scheduled on October 31, and I was booked for October 30 flights from Lahore to Tashkent. However, this flight was canceled, and I had two options – to take an October 27 flight to reach Tashkent or to take a November 2 flight that was, of course, useless for me, because the festival was ending on November 2, 2012.
Of course, I opted for the first option and reached Tashkent on October 27. Now I had 3 days to spend in Tashkent before Festival day. Consequently, I decided to explore some new dimensions of Tashkent as travel writer. I saw a lot of new private cars plying on the road, indicating a healthy economy.

I saw new buildings appearing in the central city, and I thought such social and financial expansion could harm the beautiful environments of this city if these changes are not supported by ecological balancing factors. I had enough time to walk in the streets and roads of Tashkent and decided to review the ecological changes of this city. I planned to visit parks again where I had been in the past to see how these beautiful parks are maintained and if they are still as beautiful as they were before or if pollution had started eating them out. There are many parks and open spaces in Tashkent, and parks in Tashkent are ideal places for relaxing in the autumn and summer.

Historically, Tashkent has been well-known for its gardens and green areas.
Russian ambassadors in Turkestan, Pospelov, and Burnashev reported in their diplomatic reports in the year 1800 as, “Looking at Tashkent, you will see a large garden, which is covering somewhere low buildings beside the city walls. The city is immersed in a sea of green thicket.”

All of these are overflowing with trees, shrubs, flowers, and a wide variety of wildlife. Green space in central Tashkent consists of eighteen large-scale parks, supplemented by a number of small garden squares scattered throughout the city center. It is estimated that every citizen has 68.4 square meters of green area.

In different times and epochs, travelers and poets from far wrote about the amazing beauty of the cities of Uzbekistan, the splendor of the gardens, and the wise residents caring for the surrounding environment. Historians rightly say that the people of Uzbekistan love greenery and trees, although the land and environments were not friendly to those working on plantations.

Uzbekistan falls in the category of extreme continental climate, with special care needed since ancient times to treat every green shoot, from generation to generation, making a good tradition to plant trees, gardens, shady avenues, and develop parks, creating a favorable environment.

I decided to meet someone who could give me an idea as to how the government is looking after the expansion of the city and balancing this expansion by protecting its environments. I found an old lady who was retired from a lead department responsible for the beautification and horticulture of Tashkent. My long discussions with her satisfied me that Tashkent will remain green and beautiful, because its authorities have environmental balance as their top priority. Her knowledge was very useful for me to writing such a piece of my travelogue targeting the ecological aspect of expanding Tashkent.

She told that since independence, the tradition was not only development, but balancing development with the development of more green areas. The era of the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, can be considered an Era of Green Revolution in Uzbekistan. She was of the view that special instructions were released by President Karimov to expand green areas and improve the ecological situation in the country, especially in Tashkent. Along with the construction of large-scale buildings, special focus has been paid to landscaping, expansion of parks and gardens, and bringing the landscape in line with modern requirements is a wonderful attempt to make this city more beautiful.

In the year 1997, the gardens, parks, and green spaces were nine percent of the total area of Tashkent, and today this figure has risen more than two-and-a-half times, exceeding 23%. A few decades ago, such intensive gardening was impossible to imagine. Green spaces are now key elements of urban development, a factor of great importance showing respect for nature. Indeed, where there is greenery around you during hot summer days, you can always take refuge from the sun under the broad canopy of trees. Only in the last ten years in Tashkent, around 3,027 hectares of land were used to develop several new gardens, and green areas on 1,223 acres of asphalt were turned into flower beds and lawns for the townspeople. Each year around the streets and squares, 400-500 thousand new tree seedlings appear, along with 100-150 thousand shrubs, and up to 20 million colors. For landings, plant varieties are selected for their different flowering periods, so that nearly all year, Tashkent is surrounded by greenery and flowers.

Currently, in the green areas of the city, there are more than 220 species of trees and shrubs. In the parks and squares of the capital, exotic flora – oak, chestnut, linden, birch, tulip, cotton tree, Japanese safora, magnolia, pine, fir, juniper, felt linden platanoides maple, grandiflora, American ash, paper tree, ginkgo, boxwood, cypress and others – are widely represented. The state protects 28 of the most valuable and rarest plant species. I must say that many of them are well settled down in the city and have found the optimal conditions here for their development.

A botanical garden is spread over 66 acres, and 18 parks and gardens occupy 158.4 hectares. It is very popular among the citizens to enjoy the national park named after Alisher Navoi, Amir Temur Gafur Gulam, Ulugbek Abdullah Kadiri, Babur. I’d love to go back one day and visit the water park, “Tashkentlend,” and a Japanese garden – a park area around the complex “Marifat Markazi.” Only twenty years ago, for every person Tashkent, there were 21 square meters of green space, and that amount is now almost 69 square meters.

Another good sign in Tashkent was the many original flower beds along the streets and avenues with many colors that not only pleases the eye and enhances the mood, but also demonstrates the effectiveness of the maintenance in normal environmental conditions. Despite the fact that for 20 years the capital expansion has almost doubled, thanks to the introduction of environmental measures, polluting emissions on average per vehicle has decreased by 2.5 times, and emissions enterprises have declined over the past period by three times.

Uzbekistan has ratified the major UN conventions in the field of environmental protection and has fulfilled all its obligations. This work is an integral part of the complex socio-economic policies of the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, conducted in the name of the rights and interests of the people, including the right to a decent life in a supportive environment. Successful implementation of policy reforms based on its own model of modernization, has created a solid foundation for the further development of social capital, including the active work on the beautification and landscaping of residential areas, squares, and parks.

It should be said that green spaces are not only creating an enabling environment for citizens, but are also having a positive effect on their health. For example, in Tashkent in recent years, the planting of trees, such as oak, chestnut, pine, spruce, birch, linden, Japanese safora, and cotton tree have been saturating the air with more oxygen. One hectare of greenery absorbs an average of eight liters per hour of carbon dioxide. Gas resistance species of trees – oak, elm, pine, spruce, willow, maple yasenelisty, aspen, chestnut, acacia, lilac, and birch – are now found in the landscape of Tashkent. In addition, trees are a filter for catching dust. One hectare of tree plantation reduces the concentration of harmful microorganisms in the air by 40-45 percent.

With its unique style, and combination of tradition and modernity, Tashkent is the largest economic hub in Central Asia, and according to the ranking compiled by research firm “Economist Intelligence Unit,” Tashkent has become one of the most comfortable cities in the world. It is noteworthy that Tashkent is the only city in Central Asia included on this list.

I left Tashkent for my travel to Samarkand with a hope that this beautiful city will remain green, and I will see it again next autumn just as beautiful as it was this year.