Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tashkent (from Bonn)

I spent three weeks at ZEF now, in Bonn, and, I have to say, both city and institute are quite inspiring environments. In Bonn, I was impressed with the architecture, the cultural life, but even more so the layout of the city, with green areas and snippets of agricultural land penetrating deep into the urban fabric, and with medieval villages incorporated without completely losing their identity. At ZEF, I was impressed with the rich texture of approaches and methods, their selective blending, and certainly by the intensity of debates, even after ten years of Khorezm research.

That helped me in thinking through the Uzbek experience. Not that I have final answers, but at least some storylines are crystallizing -again in discussion with colleagues at the institute. The role of knowledge in evolving land use governance, shifts in the organizational environment of the agricultural system -largely responsible for land governance- and a study of policy integration in the planning system are in the pipeline. In all these stories, questions regarding the actual role of Tashkent, of the center of power, return. Once again, no simple answers.

It looks like post-Soviet Uzbekistan is more centralized in the production of knowledge than in the application of power. The cliche image of an authoritarian pyramid, with everything revolving around the leader, does not appear suitable. Just as in Soviet times, there is flexibility, there are players at different places and levels. With regard to knowledge, it looks like Tashkent is becoming ever more important. Tashkent universities and institutes seem to have adapted better to changing scientific ideologies, they received more attention from the state, and the Tashkent network benefits more from international organizations, to a certain extent even from international competition (several foreign universities have franchises there) Moreover, the de- institutionalization of knowledge in the countryside seems much more extreme -old roles associated with a certain expertise have disappeared, or became disconnected from the expectation of expertise.

As to city design, there is, like in Bonn, a lot of green space, most of it Soviet-era park space. Some of those parks are draped around a web of litte natural streams that made the area attractive in the first place. The Uzbek government made a great effort to ´streamline´the city, to clarify and reinforce the Soviet neo- baroque structure of parks, boulevards and vista´s connecting public buildings (See the map) Parts of the old town, originally marked by a dense maze of little streets, have been integrated into that structure. This strategy, however rigorous, does encourage development, and also in this regard, Tashkent is the place where it happens. Whatever the flows of resources look like, they end up in Tashkent, more than in the past.

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