A new website seeks to document and shame the Central Asian nation's appalling car parking habits.
Я паркуюсь как осел
Unfortunately, there is no World Bank or International Monetary Fund study on comparative parking practices across nations, no ranking of the world's countries by the politeness and orderliness of their drivers' habits. But, if there were, you might expect Kazakhstan to rank near the bottom, based on the popular Kazakh website, "I Parked Like an Ass."
The story of "I Parked Like an Ass," known in the original Russian as "Я паркуюсь как осел", begins with a disgruntled driver in the city of Almaty named Roman Slegin. Radio Free Europe reports that Slegin started his website so that regular Kazakhs could publicly document, and thus shame, the atrocious parking habits that he says are common in his country. Users are encouraged to photograph any bad parking they happen upon and then upload their shots to the site.
Slegin's site, which has three staffers, has become so popular that Almaty police have offered to verify the photos and "bring charges against persistent offenders," according to Radio Free Europe, which also notes there are similar citizen-meter-maid sites in the U.S., Lebanon, and the U.K.
None of them comes close to the sheer insanity of Kazakhstan's parking habits, as documented. The people in these photos park like they're fleeing the zombie apocalypse. Putting your front wheel a few feet deep on the sidewalk -- or your entire car, for that matter -- seems widespread. So does parking, perpendicular to traffic, in the middle of an active lane. The people who make it into an actual space seem to consider three the magic number.
Here is just a sample of the 1,500-plus photos on the site (my very favorite, of a stretch hummer parked across traffic, is at the bottom), and below that some thoughts on why it would be so.
If you're still with me, you're probably wondering, as I am, what could make people think it's OK to park like this, and with such apparent frequency. Of course, individual photos are just anecdotes, not evidence of a trend. Still, there are over 1,500 of these shots, which is a lot for a nation of an estimated 2.7 million passenger cars (16.5 million people with a passenger car ownership rate of 0.167 per capita). And Clegin's site seems to have taken off in part because of how outraged many Kazakhs are by their compatriots' parking habits. So, with the big caveat that this is just anecdata and not a hard fact, what might explain it?
A few recent trends that have changed Kazakhstan as a whole -- rapid development from a poor country to middle-income, newfound global integration that's brought better access to cars, and urbanization -- could all conceivably contribute to the odd parking habits. The country, once a rural Soviet backwater, has become a bit of an economic success story. The skyrocketing GDP and fast-developing economy have led many Kazakhs out of the vast and sparsely populated countryside -- where parking anywhere and any way you please would be less deleterious to traffic -- and into the rapidly growing cities.
Put another way, there are a lot of cars and city-dwellers in a society that didn't have many of either only a generation ago, meaning that the idea of city parking itself is kind of new, and the practices that we consider normal might not have had an opportunity to develop.
There's another potential factor: oil and gas wealth. Last year, we looked at the notoriously dangerous roads of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, where oil subsidies (1) make it easier for people to buy cars; (2) imbue that car with less perceived value, because its owner didn't have to spend as much of their own money on it; (3) can sometimes give people what one Emirates resident called an "above-the-law attitude." This last point refers to a complicated effect of what scholars call a "rentier state," or a country that sells innate resources such as oil and then gives some profits directly to citizens, sometimes warping those citizens' perceptions of the state's basic responsibilities in a way that can denigrate respect for rule-of-law. Kazakhstan has plenty of oil and gas, the profits of which go to, among other things, the fancy German luxury cars you see parked across Almaty sidewalks above.
Whatever the reason, however it came to pass, parking like a barbarian raider appears to be somewhat more accepted in Kazakhstan than in other places. Roman Slegin and the people who use his site appear to be trying to change those norms. If Almaty and other Kazakh cities continue growing, it will be in everyone's interests that they succeed.
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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.