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The Urban Population

The city system is dominated by Ulaanbaatar - a classic primate city far larger than the second-ranking or third-ranking cities - in which all important political, economic, and cultural functions are centralized. In 1986 Ulaanbaatar had 500,200 people, or nearly 25 percent of the nation's population. Its dominant position was demonstrated by the transportation system, which radiated out from Ulaanbaatar (see Transportation). The industrial center of Darhan, on the main railroad line north of Ulaanbaatar, had 74,000 people in 1986; Erdenet, founded in 1976 and built around a major copper and molybdenum mining complex, had 45,400. Fourth place went to Choybalsan, the industrial metropolis of eastern Mongolia in Dornod Aymag, which had 28,600 people in 1979. Fifth through tenth places were occupied by a set of aymag seats with populations in the 16,000-to-18,000 range in 1979. The lowest rung of the urban hierarchy was occupied by the headquarters of state farms or herding cooperatives, which usually featured administrative offices, primary schools with boarding facilities, clinics, assembly halls, fodder storage facilities, and the cooperative's motor pool and truck maintenance centers.

Ulaanbaatar 2004. Photo courtesy G. Berger

During the 1980s, the pace of urban residential construction was rapid, and an increasing proportion of the urban populace was housed in Soviet-designed, prefabricated four-story or high-rise apartment complexes. Such housing complexes - equipped with heat from central plants and served by planned complexes of shops, schools, and playgrounds as well as by bus routes - represented the zenith of modernism and progress. Many people in cities continued to live in the traditional Mongolian round felt tents called ger. Mongolians do not regard ger as backward or shameful, even in Ulaanbaatar, but urban planners considered that the much higher population densities afforded by high-rise housing would permit optimum use of often-scarce flat ground and would afford the most efficient utilization of public transportion and public utilities such as water and sewer lines.

Last Update: 2010-12-07