Category Archives: SAM Street

Gubei Gold Street

By | SAM Street, Social, Urban | One Comment

When thinking of what Salem alMubarak Street could be this is what I kept imagining, a great urban renewal project in Shanghai that has almost the same scale and density as SAM Street.

People usually think of buildings without caring about what happens in the space between them. We keep making that mistake in Kuwait.

Before and after shots of the renewal of the pedestrian promenade in Gubei, which I hope is one day replicated in Kuwait:

Taking Over Freeways

By | SAM Street, Social, Urban | 4 Comments

This is an urban renewal proposal in Los Angeles that, although at a much grander scale, is similar to what we want for SAM Street. The idea is to literally cover a portion of sunken freeway with a large park.

“Plans to develop four so-called freeway cap parks have recently been announced in Los Angeles. The cap concept, which essentially covers a portion of a freeway with a planted concrete lid, has gained popularity in the last decade as an urban “greening” solution. The multibillion-dollar projects are meant to knit together previously disparate neighborhoods, theoretically creating cohesion and larger-scale community gathering places without having to destroy or displace existing infrastructures.”

Think of this as the city healing itself from a painful wound (the freeway) to remake the skin of the city. The flow would become uninterrupted, creating a seamless urban fabric that is green, clean and triggers a virtuous cycle of healthy urban living.

The only way this would work is through a public-private partnership, and this diagram shows how the project could be funded:

The properties in pink will be developed by the people that invest in the infrastructure. This would give the private sector ‘skin in the game’ and get them to promote and sustain the project indefinitely. This is a model that’s being used in Kuwait for the new Metro proposals (as far as I know), meaning that whoever invests in the project would get to develop the, all of a sudden, very desirable real estate adjacent to the station (and the station itself).

People are finally beginning to understand the damage being done to our lives by insisting on a car-only lifestyle; having our transportation system and urban design be generated by automobile patterns and parking needs. We can’t sustain this, not just because of the damage to the environment (again, I really don’t care about that) but because it has had a deep influence on society. Being fully dependent on a car has profoundly damaged the Kuwaiti psyche. Kuwait, the land of scorching heat, has become a city of asphalt and concrete. We have blindly built ourselves a frying pan to live on and now hide in giant refrigerators.

This project in LA is an example of how we can turn the corner and chart a new course for our city. I’m not suggesting we build parks over the 5th ring road, but I want us to start thinking big in terms of how we can create a pleasant and livable city. It’s going to take a lot of effort and time and money, because we’ve been ignorant of our actions for so long, but we can change.

Yes, we can.

-Edit: A few more images:

SAM Street: Winter only?

By | SAM Street, Urban | 3 Comments

Mayor Bloomberg just announced that the Times Square pedestrian pilot project will become permanent. This means that it’s now a completely pedestrian only street all year round from now on. This is great for tourism and public health and safety. They’ll start designing permanent landscape architecture and services to accommodate the change. It’s a great decision and one that should be used as an example for SAM street here in Kuwait.

Times Square, NY City

I’m wondering if maybe converting SAM street into a year round pedestrian promenade might not be fair to the tenants. Nobody will really be walking there all day during the hot summer months. What if the pedestrian street becomes seasonal? It can be done in a way so that it transforms into a pedestrian street with very little adjustment, maybe just installing retractable bollards to stop cars from driving in. The landscape architecture would have to be designed to not restrict cars in the summer, but that’s a realistic design problem and can be solved. So what we end up with is a pedestrian street during the cooler months (November to April) and a normal street during the hotter months (May to October). A seasonal transformation is a politically feasible solution for SAM street.

SAM Street Analysis

By | Other, SAM Street | No Comments

Be sure to check out Tom Modeen’s latest post on SAM street at Kuwait School. He talks about how the street has the potential to become a place where you would go to just walk around and explore, having accidental and unexpected discoveries. He has some very interesting diagrams and analysis of the reasons for wanting explore the project.

“Some of the greatest pleasures in visiting a new city is just meandering, walking around almost at random, making decisions on the spot and ‘following ones nose’ according to various interesting features that catch ones fancy – let (the corner of) one’s eyes, ears, nose lead the way… ‘Doing nothing’ is a valid urban activity – chatting with friends, daydreaming, strolling, people watching… Shopping can be ‘a’ reason, but shouldn’t necessarily be ‘the’ reason for visiting a city.”

“The idea is not to change the area, as it’s exactly the inherent qualities of SAM Street which make it so appealing, but to, call it, ‘update’ it, to retain its idiosyncrasies whilst expanding its idiom.”

-Dr. Thomas Modeen

I always thought that the narrower side street on the western end has the greatest potential. The buildings are narrow and you can easily perceive them as being porous and permeable, and you can walk through them into the more intimate garden on the other side.

This photo was taken from the second floor of that trapezoidal building on the bottom right of the diagram above. This neglected and abandoned garden can easily be transformed into a lively and public space. This stuff is just right there, behind a wall!

SAM Street

By | SAM Street, Urban | 9 Comments

Salem alMubarak Street has the potential to become (once again) an integral urban element of Kuwait. What would happen if we simply remove the street? How would a pedestrian promenade work?

Please be sure to read through Tom’s excellent post on the subject at Kuwait School. I’d argue that it might be overkill to attempt to redesign the entire strip. The western part of SAM street is narrower than the east, and has a much better ‘human’ scale which feels very pleasant. It’s also more feasible politically to consider only the western half.

The western entrance to SAM street, from the 4th ring road

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De-j28mNhbA&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0]

Diagrams:

Proposed site

The site of the promenade is linear and anchored by large open spaces. The spatial character at each end is very different, with the west being loud and bright (advertising, 4th ring road) and the east quiet and mellow. The linear transition between the two ends should reflect this change in character of the space.

There are some really interesting buildings in there. The star of the show is definitely the alAnjiri complex, the big one to the right of the Z shaped thing on the left. Jasem is going to conduct a separate detailed analysis of that great building. The southern strip is also very intriguing. Some have a wonderful shared courtyard behind them (which is sadly not utilized well). This has enormous potential to allow for a porous ground level to allow people to walk through and into the courtyard.

The image above is of one of the courtyards behind the buildings along SAM street. My HDR software went crazy and tried be an impressionist painter. Anyway, you can see that there’s quite a lot of shade and great potential for some really wonderful uses for that space.

Parking will obviously be an issue, but there are three major lots, with the one on the top right being a large multi-story parking. Even so, I doubt that this would be enough seeing as how we’re taking so many away. A new large multi-story might have to be built where the lower left lot is now since that is conveniently located and to balance out with the other one.

Existing Trees

Proposed Trees

Well, maybe not that dense, but the point is that the southern side of SAM street will be shaded by the buildings, while the north side will need trees or some other form of shading device. The street is very wide, and can actually have a real linear park going all the way through it; with grass and fountains and landscape architecture and whatever. The existing trees are old and valuable and we have to keep them, so any landscape design would be generated from them.

This is just a quick and dirty example just to show the scale of the place without the street and curb. It’s actually a lot bigger than it seems at first. Any intervention has to be aware of this not to end up being too open.

The island in the middle of SAM street

I think SAM street is probably one of the best spaces in Kuwait where a real public space can happen. A place where people can go window shopping and listen to live music and buy food from street vendors. The intervention is relatively minor but the potential is incredible. We can ignore it and let it suffocate or we breathe new life into the street and create something that Kuwait doesn’t really have; a lively, free and open public space.

Where Do I Sit?

By | SAM Street, Social, Urban | 6 Comments

William Whyte, in his book ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces’, explains why some public spaces work and others don’t. The example in the previous post of AlRaya made me wonder how we can adapt his ideas for Kuwait. I highly recommend, if you haven’t already, for everyone to see the video. We obviously don’t have the same density as Manhattan, but in a few years Kuwait City will hopefully be a lot denser than it is today. Here is what Whyte had to say:

Crowds:

What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people. If I belabor the point, it is because many urban spaces are being designed as though the opposite were true, and that what people liked best were the places they stay away from. People often do talk along such lines; this is why their responses to questionnaires can be so misleading. How many people would say they like to sit in the middle of a crowd? Instead, they speak of getting away from it all, and use words like “escape”, “oasis”, “retreat”. What people do, however, reveals a different priority.

This is because of both a desire for safety and is a method of peer-approval. People naturally feel safer in crowds. You see the opposite in our public parks. Most of them are fenced off and gated. The intent was to ensure safety and security, but in reality what this does is put people off from going in. It becomes a ‘destination’ instead of an impulse. If the walls weren’t there you’ll start to see kids playing inside, which in turn attracts more kids and families, which attracts more action. It’s sort of counter-intuitive, but the walls actually make the parks less safe. The only people who feel safer because of them are the people hiding inside, doing things they’re not supposed to be doing. I say we tear down the walls. I know, that seems like my solution to every problem.

Benches:

Benches are artifacts the purpose of which is to punctuate architectural photographs. They’re not so good for sitting. There are too few of them; they are too small; they are often isolated from other benches or from whatever action there is on the plaza. Worse yet, architects tend to repeat the same module in plaza after plaza, unaware that it didn’t work very well in the first place.

Benches are useless. They force strangers to sit unnaturally close together. A better solution is to have a long ‘decha’ or built mass all around the space that is easy and comfortable to sit on. The more options people have to organize themselves as a couple, or a group, the more accepting they will be of that space. In Kuwait, as with most places, we see far too many benches that have just been plopped on the edge of the sidewalk, facing the street, and away from the shade. Instead of benches everywhere, why not have trash bins? There are too few of those, and I often find myself needing to throw something but not finding anywhere to put it.

Distrust and “Undesirables”:

Many corporation executives who make the key decisions about the city have surprisingly little acquaintance with the life of its streets and open spaces. … To them, the unknown city is a place of danger. If their building has a plaza, it is likely to be a defensive one that they will rarely use themselves. Few others will either. Places designed with distrust get what they were looking for and it is in them, ironically, that you will most likely find a wino.

The ‘courtyard’ space of AlRaya is a great example of this (though i’ve only rarely seen a wino). The space is so controlled and isolated that it is simply rejected. The fear of ‘letting it go’ and allowing anyone to use it has condemned the space to being cold and neglected (no matter how clean and well maintained it is). There is never anyone there, so people aren’t attracted to it. The fear of attracting laborers or loud youth often sanitizes the space to a point where it becomes boring and forced, like AlRaya.

Guards and Plaza mayors:

…it is characteristic of well-used places to have a “mayor”. He may be a building guard, a newsstand operator, or a food vendor. Watch him, and you’ll notice people checking in during the day. … One of the best mayors I’ve seen is Joe Hardy of the Exxon Building. He is an actor, as well as the building guard, and was originally hired by Rockefeller Center Inc. to play Santa Claus, whom he resembles. Ordinarily, guards are not supposed to initiate conversations, but Joe Hardy is gregarious and curious and has a nice sense of situations. … Joe is quite tolerant of winos and odd people, as long as they don’t bother anybody. He is very quick to spot real trouble, however.

We sort of have those in Kuwait, but in the private malls. They’re those serious guys in dishdashas with the walkie talkies. I think the way they usually go about their job is counterproductive as they seem more interested in breaking up groups than in creating a pleasant atmosphere. Their primary job should be to facilitate a free, happy and safe environment. Every major public space should also have it’s own little mayor. They’re not really police, but a cross between security and a tour guide. The best ones are those that feel a sense of pride, ownership and responsibility for the place that they control. They should also have authority to demand that shop owners and such are well regulated and everything is clean and tidy. They will also be held responsible if things aren’t safe, clean and busy. It should be a well paid job, because the results are very important and the only way to ensure accountability is if the person is well compensated.

Megastructures:

The ultimate development in the flight from the street is the urban fortress. In the form of megastructures more and more of these things are being put up – huge, multipurpose complexes combining offices, hotels, and shops… Their distinguishing characteristic is self-containment. While they are supposed to be the salvation of downtown, they are often some distance from the center of downtown, and in any event tend to be quite independent of their surroundings, which are most usually parking lots. The megastructures are wholly internalized environments, with their own life-support systems. Their enclosing walls are blank, windowless, and to the street they turn an almost solid face of concrete or brick.

Again, AlRaya is a perfect example of this, but almost every other mall is guilty of the same sin. The only exception is probably Marina Mall. They attempt a sort of public space at the Salem alMubarak end, but the lack of any real pedestrian activity softens the impact. Hopefully once Salmiya Park is finished (and isn’t fenced) things will be different. Marina Crescent is very successful. It’s a great example of a public (kind of) space that works really well. There just aren’t enough places to sit (where you’re not expected to buy something). I don’t know how comfortable those giant bumps are, but they seem pretty useless. The point is that successful projects are not the inward-looking ‘megastructures’, but the ones that engage and interact with their context. There really isn’t anything to fear, and if done right, all parties benefit; the developer, the city and the citizens.

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coluombo- Flickr