This is the view from my window at the Sky Hostel in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
The city is completely flanked to the south by a range of the Tian Shan mountains. Their jagged spires and peaks gnaw on what is usually a clear blue sky above.
You can really see the sky here — something that’s been taken for granted for thousands of years which is becoming a prized commodity of fewer and fewer places around the world. Development and modernization here hasn’t meant a toxic dome above.
Besides the mountains and the sky there was another thing that was striking about Almaty as I looked out from my window: the trees. A melee of thousands and thousands of mature coniferous and deciduous trees commanded the landscape from the urban core out to the horizon, allowing for a smooth transition between the city and the forests beyond like I have never seen before. There are around 1.4 million trees in Almaty — that’s almost exactly one tree per person. They are everywhere: from the broad residential boulevards to the most vibrant commercial streets. Where many cities may pride themselves for having a few streets flanked by a singular type of tree that quickly wears on the ocular senses and becomes just another part of the mono-culture of another pseudo “garden city,” almost every street of Almaty has multiple rows of a wide variety of trees that extend to the house or store fronts in a more natural assembly. Residential lots, the sides of drive ways, and just about every other plantable space has trees sprouting from it here, which gives the impression of a city blanketed in greenery rather than the using of trees as decoration or a convenient outline for roads.
Walking through Almaty feels like strolling through a campground, the shops and houses are hiding within frontings of green rather than bursting out in your face, the city smells of oak, maple, and pine rather than exhaust, rot, and sewage, and a natural shade extends over everything. Almaty is city that’s planted in a forest. It is the only city in the world that I know of which has its own canopy.