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Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Controversy in Baku

So the Financial Times' FDI magazine recently published a fantasmagorical article proclaiming Baku as a "2006/2007 European City of the Future." The panel decreed:


Winner: Baku, Azerbaijan
Runner up: Rivne City, Ukraine

With an estimated GDP of more than 12.6bn for 2005 and an economy growing at more than 10% a year, Baku is emerging as an important economic powerhouse for the Western Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. The Azerbaijan government estimates that more than €4bn in FDI flowed into the city in 2005.

IT and communications are still catching up with EU standards, but more than one in four people have access to the internet, and data connection speeds of up to 500 megabits a second are available. Modern housing is available close to shopping areas where familiar outlets such as Polo, Benetton and McDonald’s have opened.

It's hard to know if this was written by a European who has never been to Azerbaijan, or an Azeri who has never been to Europe. People who have been to both Europe and Baku take issue with this assessment, particularly the acid-tongued Breed:

"With an economy based on oil and corruption, it's difficult to see how the FT figured this one. While the Azeris rich enough to have bought their government positions can estimate whatever they like, if more than €4bn foreign direct investment flowed into the city in 2005, one wonders how much ended up outside the personal control of the folks estimating FDI (perhaps that's how they know - just checking their savings passbooks). Lots of pretty buildings (if your sense of aesthetics is in your ass), but driving between any point A and any point B will reveal the decrepit state of the infrastructure.

"'IT and communications are still catching up with EU standards' is one of the grimmest pieces of understatement I have ever heard. Ever. The only reason the average Ramiz has access to the internet is (a) internet cafes and (b) the prodigious labor of international NGOs, e.g. through IATP et al.

"Does anyone reading this in Baku have data connection speeds of up to 500 megabits a second?

"In my country - which is, admittedly, not Europe - we have gas and power 24/7. This is what we call "modern housing." Is there another standard of which I am unaware?

"However, I note that neither respect for human rights, the rule of law, nor issues of transparency are mentioned, but that good shopping is a desirable quality. Perhaps Baku is becoming the American city of the future? One can only hope."

Indeed, Baku has taken a huge step toward becoming an American city of the future. Look at all the stolen elections. And it already has two McDonald's!

I think the panel needs to seriously re-examine the model against which these cities are being judged.

I can't but agree with you. I am from Baku and like my city, but was very surprised to read that Baku was elected city of the future! Yes, we have had huge inflows of FDI, but barely anything went beyong the oil sector. Infrastructure is developing, especialy compared to say Georgia, but I would not be that bold to nominate Baku for city of the future.
Carpetblogger, agreed. I don't know why our city elected as a first city. I think, all they wrote about our city is a bull shid.
I am sick and tired of you people coming to Baku, smiling everyone's face, taking pictures, and then sharing only the worst ones. I surpised when i saw those pics here. What? You were looking for only disgusting sights?
Baku deserves to be elected the first.
I just returned from Baku and I'd have to agree that it's a city of the future. I was impressed as hell.
I live in Baku, I am not from Baku but I respect the custom wherever I live in. I do not know about Baku will be the city of the future, but it is growing fast, too fast in fact. And yes I have internet access at 1MB(you read that right, 1 MEGABITE/SECOND) here in Baku. I think Baku people should take all comments in a positive way and should hang on the good value they have. So far I have no problem living here. If there is one thing I dislike, that is that people here spits any where they like especially on the streets in Fountain Square. It ruins my lovely walk on the weekend.
Hi,I'm from Baku originally and I have read both your article and original article from FDI and have to say that even though country is yet to develop its infrustructure and communication systems to EU standards it certainly posesses plenty of potential to develop into Europe's leading industrial, tourist and business destination, provided all the proceeds from multi billion dollar contracts deals go straight back to economy and managed well. This is the core ingredient necessary to become a future city of Estern Europe. I don't think it's quite there yet, however.
This is an addition to the comment made on Feb. 21st. I am not from Baku, but I was there 2 years ago. I was completely turned off by the way that city looked. If this is a country with so much potential, why can't they fix their infrastructure, fight the overly indulged gargantuous burocrates in the government, and actually have a chance to live a decent life. I guess if this is part of the upcoming future, or the ideal model of a future city, I'd rather live in the past.
Great Blog!! That was amazing. Your thought processing is wonderful. The way you tell the thing is awesome. You are really a master.

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