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Never Too Late: Planning for Baku’s Explosive Growth

February 18, 2015

World Bank Group

Baku is a city without a master plan and it shows. High rises stand amidst three story apartment houses. Pieces of the city’s oil infrastructure sit in highly populated areas. Glittering high-priced boutiques stand not far from decaying houses. And the traffic and aggressive drivers prompt complaints from residents in all neighborhoods and from all income levels.

“I’d like to see fewer high rises, so they don’t appear here and there, more green spaces, more parks. And please make it easier for old people and children to cross the street!” says Sabir Ahmadov, Baku resident and pensioner, as he sits on a bench in a shady park. Shirali Orujlu agrees. “One thing I’d like to see is better traffic and better public transport, like new buses,” he says. And Sonya Isayeva, watching over her granddaughter, says things are improving, slowly. “The city’s getting better, new parks, new buildings, but I’d like to see these changes go beyond the city center.”

With assistance from the World Bank, Baku is working on a detailed land management plan that addresses issues ranging from density to parking to the number of new Kindergartens and hospital beds a neighborhood will need. The idea is to asset a vision for the city, enforce zoning laws, and plan for residents’ needs.

Control over Chaos

For years, the city simply changed in response to events. An influx of refugees after the war with Armenia, or the oil boom and the wealth it brings, have left their marks on the city, but with little input from planners. Away from the immediate downtown waterfront, the result is a patchwork of buildings with a variety of different uses.


Baku city planners are working on a master plan aimed at creating a better place for residents to live.

World Bank


This is a city without a detailed land management plan, and it show in the mix of high rises, low rises, parks and, most residents complain, in the bustling traffic.

World Bank


The city planning work is being done with support from the World Bank, and planners are looking at information as detailed as the number of hospital beds and kindergartens needed per neighborhood.

World Bank

 “I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” says Feyzulla Quliyev, an urban planning consultant. “And many of the issues are the same from Soviet times: traffic, metro plans, these are still relevant. But the challenges are greater because the traffic and transport problems have grown, and the environment is more important.”

3.5 million people live here, most of them crammed together in the center city; the population has almost doubled in the past twenty years. And greater Baku is vast, bigger than Moscow, but aside from the city’s core, most of it is low density and under-used. “We think it is feasible, and a good idea, to take some of the big industrial, entertainment and leisure areas that are now in the center city out into the suburbs,” says Ilgaz Isbatov, the director of the Baku State Design Institute.

Coming Late to Planning

And the experts admit that Baku is coming late to urban design and planning. “We have to do big thinking on the master plan,” says Amin Mammadov, an urban planner. “Where people live, where they take rests, where they spend their leisure time. Work on the master plan is important, otherwise there’d be chaos.” But Baku, with no time to waste, will have a master plan in place soon. And, by 2030, planners talk about creating an environmental city, with an expanded subway system, a grid of green parks, and fewer cars on the road.

3.5 M
people live in Baku today. The World Bank is helping the city to address multiple urban issues.

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