Bishkek has often billed itself as “the greenest city in Asia.” There is a lot of truth in the claim. The Soviet-style north-south, east-west grid of the city is punctuated by large, lush parks that intersect with government buildings, apartment blocks, and commercial zones. Most streets are lined with large oaks and fir trees. Official, austere squares are softened by massive flower beds. In some parks enormous copses of rose bushes rise up blooming in the late summer sun.
At the same time, some of the qualities that have recently been associated with “green,” such as environmental consciousness are still lacking. Air pollution in Bishkek is higher than recommended standards, often due to traffic and the lack of regulations for cars to have catalytic converters. Resources are inefficiently consumed because of the design of old Soviet-era infrastructure, and it is common to see litter in many parts of the city that are not surrounding the seats of government power.
All the same, the thriving plant life gives residents, me included, a sense of relief and calmness that is rare in cities of this size. The population is estimated to be over 1.25 million.
I am lucky enough to live and work in the center of the city. The American University of Central Asia (AUCA), where I am a fellow at the Social Research Center, is next to the parliament building and my flat is only a few blocks away. As a result I get to stroll through the Open Air Sculpture Museum in Oak Park on my way to the AUCA in the mornings.