Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Ulan Bator's explosive growth has left new residents without affordable housing, meaning 60 percent of the city lives in tent settlements off the grid.
Mongolia, a country with one of the world’s fastest growing economies, is also the least dense, with 2.8 million people spread out over an area approximately three times the size of France (slightly over 600,000 square miles). Each year, between 30,000 to 40,000 people migrate to the nation's capital, Ulan Bator, home to more than half of Mongolia's population.
More than half of Ulan Bator's residents live in "ger" districts, where there's no access to basic public services like roads, plumbing or electricity. In the winter, residents burn coal and trash to stay warm, which can produce pollution bad enough to cause problems at the airport's air control tower.
"Ger" refers to the round tents synonymous with Mongolia's nomadic traditions. Thanks to Ulan Bator's lack of affordable housing, they attract a surprising range of inhabitants. Many residents, in fact, have a steady income. According to a World Bank report, unemployment in ger districts is slightly over 62 percent.
Reuters photographer Carlos Barria documented life in Ulan Bator's gers. Below, what he discovered: