Mongolia's Gandan Monastery: Between Buddhism and Urbanism

by UB correspondent, March 3, 2006

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia -- A survey of residents in the area surrounding Gandantegchenling Monastery has demonstrated a lack of consensus on what form the future development of this district should take.

<< Gandan Monastery

Conducted by the Alliance of Religions and Conservation as part of the World Bank "Sacred Urban Landscape Protection Initiative - Environmental Education and Conservation Management for Monasteries in Ulaanbaatar", the survey is part of a larger project to assist Gandantegchenling Monastery in developing an environmentally-sound management plan for the Monastery and its surrounding urban area.

According to the report, "The issue of urban planning in the wider Gandan Hill area has long been fraught with controversy, with great differences in opinion existing over whether the land in this area should be privatized, whether the existing residents should be evicted to create a planned residential district or religious complex, and whether Gandantegchenling Monastery should enjoy direct control over the land outside its own walls."

While there is very strong agreement among the local population that Gandantegchenling Monastery is a significant historical and cultural site, it is evident that residents do not believe the existence of a religious complex in this area necessarily implies a need to control the ownership, management or development of the current residential district.

Approximately 85% of surveyed residents believe that the area should remain a ger district, while 76.6% were favourable to the development of the site as a modern residential area. Only 29.2% of residents stated they would willingly surrender their lots even if offered fair compensation, and more than two-thirds of the population does not expect to leave this area under any circumstances; 92% of residents support the privatization of the land surrounding the monastery.

The survey report suggests that a zoning-based development strategy for this urban region could be viewed as most acceptable by local residents, who support the private development of the residential district but would also like to see the historical and cultural value of the Gandan hill sacred area better protected. Such a strategy would recognize the right to private ownership of the area surrounding the monastery, but would impose some zoning restrictions on property use and on construction, in the interest of maintaining the overall integrity of the site.

A meeting of stakeholders from the monastery, local and national governments and the local population is expected to be held in March to discuss the management of this historic site in further detail. An official Site Management Plan for the Gandantegchenling Monastery / Geser Temple area is to be finalized this spring.

The full text of the report can be found here.