This is a special time in Armenia. It is a moment where all is possible because Armenians have demonstrated that they want a new future. Triggered by the peaceful Velvet Revolution of March-April 2018, Armenia received the gift of unexpected freedom and a break with a corrupt past. From this emancipation comes the question: What is next?
Freedom comes with responsibility, a social, political, economic and environmental responsibility. There is a public discussion of how best to use human, economic and natural resources for a stable society and a peaceful world. But there is a question mark hanging over the future. The current status quo is unacceptable. People are making ends meet, making the best of it, but they are also hurting. The current status quo, by all accounts, is not what people want for themselves or their families.
This series of articles aims to answer these questions and doing so by embracing the values of human dignity. It is the explicit hope that by making recommendations for action, the outcome of these recommendations work to ensure basic dignity for all Armenians and not for a select few. These articles map out a path that would lead to meeting the basic needs of every citizen: a safe, habitable and affordable roof above their head, access to proper nutrition, clothes to wear, adequate medical care, adequate and equal access to economic resources for all, so that no one needs to beg for a hand out, having community support services and educational resources for lifelong learning. To envision, to imagine, to dream what is possible, provides a starting point for accomplishing the vision. With more access to information and more knowledge of human experience than ever before, these articles serve to harness this knowledge and directly apply it to the current Armenian context and situation.
These recommendations are a response to the groundswell for change not only as a result of the Velvet Revolution, but the ongoing aspiration that begs to be mobilized for action and improving the betterment of the entire population of the country. Growth needs to be selective because growth may be positive but it can also be negative in its effects and consequences. Growth should not be exploitative but inclusive. This proposal reflects a core value that organizations and governments work for people and not the other way around.
It is a road map from deprivation and austerity to prosperity. These recommendations are made to help reposition Armenia in a changing global landscape, where small may be advantageous, where limited resources used wisely could unlock hidden potentials for growth and where the establishment of new alliances with smaller countries may lead to an unexpected synergy of assets. At the same time, Armenia by using a competitive strategy in negotiation with more powerful geo-political partners of Russia, China, the U.S. and the Arab world, can forge partnerships for growth opportunities in trade that could contribute to raising its standard of living, and promoting peace and stability in the region.
There is no objective time frame as it is understood that change can take place rapidly or may take decades. What is further understood in creating this proposal in these articles is the assumption that there is a point to stop thinking, talking and planning and move to action.
These actions are not conceived nor should they be imposed ‘from above,’ but for consideration by all and acceptable as reasonable actions by people through consensus and understanding. At the same time, planning and action needs to be unified, organized, integrated and coordinated for effectiveness.
It is understood that the country, a small nation, has limited resources for social and economic development. However, it has riches and wealth that cannot be measured by certain standards and may outweigh a business balance sheet. It is an exciting moment in time for imagination, re-imagining, vision and ultimately for positive change.
This proposal includes the means by which existing economic wealth can be more equitably distributed within the population, the means to attract investment and development funding from abroad, and the means to generate new income internally and through the external expansion of trade and marketing. Therefore, this proposal addresses the economic disparity and inequality in the country as well as the need to bolster and expand a middle class.
Thus it proposes ways to end poverty, ways to use existing resources and to generate more investment to produce a robust and revitalized economy. The overall goals are also to make Armenia a vibrant nation with a vision for the future path to a New Armenia, end inequitable distribution of wealth, propel economic development that is integrated with affirmative action based on need and with the full involvement and participation of Armenia’s people. Rather than a top down initiative, these proposals for action are intended to initiate a process for engagement and consensus for achieving a people’s destiny, an engagement that should come from the roots of the vine.
It is also based on the current expectation of the general population, their readiness and willingness for substantive change and the need for effective, willing leadership to facilitate change in the nation and its society.
Although multi-sector in approach, this proposal is people and family focused with the aim to produce stability, harmony and well-being for all. The approach is based on self-sufficiency, not dependency and emphasizes the use of inclusive decision making processes with all stakeholders for making development, investment and trade decisions. This process should not be the provenance of economists, politicians, ideologues and businessmen and managers, it should be an open discussion with the free and willing participation of the people of Armenia.
These articles address the needs of education, housing, community development, food and nutrition, health and medical care to improve social conditions. This is to identify value areas rather than be distracted by commodities and post-industrial ideologies and position Armenia within a fluid global culture. Technological thinking and economics are too closely aligned to profit making and exchange value when there are intrinsic values that need to be addressed for improvement in the everyday life of a people and overall social conditions. Liberal democracy is evolving and Armenians have the freedom and capacity to use liberal democracy for expressing the best of their values for social action.
The proposal recommendations are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”
This proposal uses the concepts of HUBS, PODS and INITIATIVES to describe ways to reconfigure, reconnect and reconstruct the flow of resources, money/capital and human agency/interaction to revitalize the country. The recommendations are based on successful models and an evaluation of the benefits and results of economic policy and philosophy. Furthermore, they are based on successful working models (as indicated at points in the proposal) from a wide range of global locations including the Post World War II Marshall Plan and the rebuilding of Europe, the revitalization of a Post-War Japan, Post World War II economic and social development of Scandinavian countries, Central Asia’s Kazakhstan, New Zealand, the small nation experiences of the Baltic nation of Estonia, the United Arab Emirates, the new nations of the Federated States of Micronesia, Malaysia, the United States Territory of Guam, and the what is referred to as the Four Tigers, the nations of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea.
Nations can be happy places to live. The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network annually publishes The World Happiness Report. This report ranks national happiness based on respondents and other life factors. In 2018, the report ranked Finland at the top for happiness, followed by Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Described as ‘stable, safe and socially progressive’ they may serve as strong models of what can be.
Rather than languishing as a post-Soviet dystopia, Armenia, which is ranked at 129th, now has the opportunity to re-invent itself into the happiest nation in the world and seize the title from Finland.
It should be noted that Finland was not always a happy place. Before World War II and well into the early 1970s, Finland was a poor rural nation, one of the poorest in Scandinavia, with out-migration to its more prosperous neighbors. But by 2000 it was at the top of competitive and innovative nations. What caused the change? According to Reijo Miettinen Professor of Adult Education in the Institute of Behavioral Sciences of the University of Helsinki, it was the combination of innovation with the public services of a welfare state that fueled economic development. He identifies reasons for this dramatic transformation as including “universal public services, high-level of education of the workforce, high-level of generalized trust that enhance economic interaction across boundaries, strong tradition of local governance as well as a large-scale participation in civic associations.” By 1972 Finland had established free health centers throughout the country. Its government provides unemployment insurance, maternity benefits, family allowances and daycare centers. Old-age and disability insurance is financed by taxes on employers and there has been a conciliatory relationship between trade unions and employers.
Although Finland is only one model, a range of models, approaches and ideologies were examined for the recommendations in this series of articles. The recommendations of actions for successful and effective equitable results are partially based on a Keynesian rather than a monetary approach. They are further based on the understanding that government intervention is a necessity not just for economic stability and growth, but as a critical mechanism of unity, planning and a force for moving forward for collective betterment.
The key actions proposed in this series of articles are based on economic principles of expanding capital flow into many directions, providing economic upward mobility with flow into the hands of the economic disadvantaged, to raise their productivity and spending power; it includes recommendations for the re-education of the workforce for smarter, updated skill sets, with the expansion of employment with the aim of full employment, the instigation of public infrastructure projects for job creation, the development of low barrier entry jobs at sustainable wage levels. This is understood to be framed in a ‘small volume, high value’ production economy.
It addresses the need of development on all levels of scale but proposes a strategy of strong emphasis on small level ‘micro-development’ and community level development of urban neighborhoods, small cities and villages, in addition to medium size and larger scale economic investment and development. Critical to national development is a proposed revitalization with renovation and redevelopment of the capital city of Yerevan area as a municipal district of hubs. Hand-in-hand with this critical development is the aim to reconfigure transport and population movement to decongest the current urban center of the country.
This proposal uses the ‘Family First’ concept based on the United Arab Emirates model in social and community development. It proposes possible resettlement options to improved, modern new housing, purchased with low rate government housing loans and beneficial pay back terms. Rather than pooling capital into the hands of a few, the aim of the proposal is to increase money/capital in the domestic economy, keeping it circulating as re-circulation or ‘turnover’ flow to multiple transactions internally. At the same time, the aim of the proposal is to attract international investment and capital as well as tourism spending.
Goal 1 - To revitalize Armenia’s urban living and working space by re-developing the capital area of Yerevan and rebuilding its transport system
Recommendation: In order to produce an efficient and organized governmental system and to de-urbanize an overpopulated, congested and polluted Yerevan city, this proposal recommends the creation of a Greater Yerevan Municipal District. It would be designed with dedicated and integrated HUBS that consist of 1) a New Administrative Capital south of the current capital 2) a revitalized Capital City Center of Yerevan, and 3) Smaller New Built Complexes of Mixed-Use or Designated-purpose Hubs outside the existing city limits. These hubs would be serviced and linked by a new train line running from the International Airport to the city center of Yerevan.
Sub-goal 1 – To Create a new Administrative Center and Government Hub as a smaller new capital, a ‘new town’ community with its own new housing (a federal district community), shopping and school complex (new office buildings, integrated housing and community with administrative functions with schools, shops, cafes, administrative offices and outreach offices).
It would be established south of Yerevan between the old city center and nearer to the Zvartnots International Airport. The hub would be interconnected to the airport and the city center with a new rail link or monorail line. The new government hub would be interconnected to the other hubs built nearby and linked by public transport, i.e. a technology hub (an Armenian Silicon Valley or national digital telecommunications center)
This proposed sub-goal is modeled after Malaysia’s Putrajaya and Cyberjaya (part of a high-technology business district in a special economic zone) and Kazakhstan’s Astana, the Green city concept Greenbelt, Maryland, USA, Milton Keynes, UK; Brasilia of Brazil; Australia’s Canberra and the United Arab Emirates. As a result of the congestion and overpopulation of Cairo, Egypt is developing a new capital as a smart city, with a smart traffic system, green space, mall, and residential districts integrated into the plan.
Government administrative departments that are not essential to Yerevan itself would be relocated; government workers and other hub workforce members would be offered new housing development at low interest loans (payment deducted from government salaries) in tiered pricing and size structures based on need. This would address the need to ‘decongest’ the current city center and provide modern, streamlined administrative services. The establishment of the hub(s) would provide infrastructure building projects for job creation.
Sub-goal 2 - In addition, government services would be developed outside the hub as community-based ‘mini-pods’.
These would be ‘One Stop Shop’ processing for government needs of community residents and would be decentralized to provide more efficient government services. Staffing of the mini-pods as government community branches would provide more entry level jobs for civil service and public service. They could also be established in existing structures including Metro Stations of Yerevan.
The constructions of the hubs would serve to revitalize the economy with the aim for full employment, to raise the standard of living and increase average wages, household income and fluid income for spending. The proposed hub would be major infrastructure development projects that would provide jobs for unemployed workers and fuel a jump start to the economy. Hub construction would be funded by international bonds, loans and development contributions. They would start on a small scale and progressively build on the core foundation as revenues and return on investment of government and partnership spending. New jobs, increased purchases and new profit earnings would be taxed and increase the government revenues.
These recommendations are not to create a ‘grand illusion’. They are based in practicality, pragmatism and human values. They are understood to represent a small scale effort that is targeted for maximum effect. They are meant to be responsive to need, producing an open capital, not a closed capital and ultimately being an expression of Armenian sensibility. These recommendations offer viable alternative actions that may prove successful for the unique experience and specific experience and specialness of Armenia.
These recommendations if actualized could benefit society, take care of those most in need and give the means to the strong to fulfill their full potential. The greatest resource is not external, it is internal, and it is the Armenian spirit and faith paired with a sensibility that offers hospitality and graciousness; this spirit offers a way to a peaceful and tolerant society. This proposed plan of action is an appeal to this spirit that can take the best from the Armenian past, embrace the moment and work towards change that provides the best people and for a bright future.
Subsequent articles in this series will examine other areas and make recommendations for a transportation renaissance; economic development and investment; trade and export market expansion; heritage protection and development; community and neighborhood development; living space revitalization and beautification; social justice, inclusiveness and diversity and more.