They are going to start demolishing all the fences that surround public parks. I’ve asked for this a couple of times (here and here) and it seems their reason for removing them was mainly to stop people abusing the parks for ‘immoral acts’. I can also understand the concerns of parents worried about their kids. I wouldn’t mind child proofing the kids play areas, where there are swings and activities (maybe have a 1m high fence around those areas?) but I also think those fears are exaggerated. The problem parents should concentrate on is trying to find ways to reduce the speed of cars in residential neighborhoods. That’s the real problem and one which I don’t see much effort going towards fixing it. Still, this is a good step towards improving the walkability of Kuwaiti neighborhoods and every step makes it easier to take the next one and get us closer towards safer, healthier and more stimulating neighborhoods.
Category Archives: Neighborhood
This video encapsulates almost everything i’m trying to achieve on re:kuwait in terms of transit oriented development and more walkable neighborhoods. It shows in a very concise and simple way how we can create the sort of neighborhoods that I describe in posts such as this.
There’s an strange place in Qortuba, Block 1. It’s a sort of dead space that came as a result of awkward road planning. The space is mostly asphalt now, and has a small two level shopping block and a mosque. The houses adjacent to it have started to use the land as a sort of private, gated gardens and parking.
I think there’s huge potential here. The area is very dense, probably one of the densest residential neighborhoods in Kuwait. Most of the families living there have several generations living in one house. What if we develop this land into a dense, mixed use development?
I can imagine something with massive underground parking and a porous, outdoor ground level that has tree-lined pathways, shops, gardens, a daycare center, etc. The entire ground level is walkable. There are no streets for cars. You enter either by walking to it or driving underneath it to park your car. It would be sort of an old school Kuwaiti neighborhood, with narrow streets and high (three level) buildings for shade.
The idea is that the second and third floors would be apartments for young Kuwaitis. It would provide such a different lifestyle to the one that most are used. You can simply walk out of the house and meander through the lively scene underneath you, go for a walk through the gardens, walk to the mosque, drop your kids off in the daycare center and maybe go to a restaurant owned by a Kuwaiti chef next to the bookshop. There is such a huge demand for these kinds of spaces where young Kuwaitis can feel free to live and work in safe environments that are close to their families.
The image above is a quick 5 minute sketch I made in Photoshop (content aware fill is magic!) and is trying to show the density of the development, so ignore the ‘design’. It’s a huge space, almost 40,000m2. There are so many win-win opportunities in Kuwait, and this is a great example of one of them. There’s demand, the land is there, so why not do it?
Last year, I wrote a post about building towers in the middle of residential neighborhoods. Maybe that was a little dreamy but the point was to create a more mixed-use residential neighborhood. I look around where I live and it makes no sense to me that there are big, single family homes facing a very busy street. There is a missed opportunity here.
I think it would be a lot better for everyone if we had mixed-use development along the main roads inside residential areas. You would have shops on the ground floor, with wide, well shaded sidewalks with trees and benches and parking hidden behind or underneath. A wide variety of apartments would be on the two floors above. This would avoid having families being forced to build a second or third floor in their existing houses to accommodate an expanding family, yet still allow people to live close to their old house.
The young people living in those apartments would be within walking distance to their ‘family house’ and also to a walkable, dense neighborhood that is underneath them. There is a demand for places to live (and also for places to work), but they don’t all have to be big houses.
Wikipedia works because of the energetic voluteerism of a dedicated core of users. We can harness this same crowdsourced dedication in Kuwait to help improve our public spaces. Everyone has a camera-phone now, and most newer models have the ability of adding geotagging information on photographs they take. This means that every photo has the GPS coordinates of the location in which the photo was taken.
What if some government entity creates a website where people can upload photos they take of things they feel are broken or wrong, such as graffiti, broken lamps, potholes, whatever. These photos are uploaded to the website by a few people wanting to do good for their community. Not everyone has to do this, just as with Wikipedia where only a small fraction of the total users are actively editing and creating articles.
The website becomes a real time ‘to do’ list for the goverment. The people posting to it are the eyes on the ground that can direct the action that needs to take place. Mechanisms can be put in place whereby if a week goes by and a ‘to do’ isn’t fixed then a flag goes up and the person in charge of fixing it gets a penalty. All this needs is a few people to oversee the website and collate the data and send the alerts to the people that need to fix the problem; meaning a photo of a broken lamp would be forwarded to the sub-contractors in charge of fixing them.
The internet is a great way of connecting people together. I can be so much more than Facebook.
A reader sent me an interesting request asking if there was a way to sort of stitch the areas of Kuwait into one connected fabric:
“…the new trend in kuwait is to become more healthier, more active, more movement involved, so why not be connected closer?. Is there a way in connecting e.g. nuzha and daihya abdullah al salem (walking route)? I’m suggesting that people should be able to move from one place to the other without the use of cars. If im going to a diwaniya in faiha or dhaiya from nuzha i should have a route allowable for bikers ( bicycle ) walking etc… besides using bridges.”
What the reader realized is that almost all the areas of Kuwait have been cut and packaged into ostensibly self-sufficient residential ‘cells’. The crisscross of highways prevent people from moving from one cell to the other without a car. The only exclusion from this rule are the few pedestrian bridges that traverse the highways, as you can’t even cross the street because of a chain link fence.
First of all, we need to really care about and enforce rules governing public space in Kuwait. What I mean is that we need to build and maintain better sidewalks. We can’t have people parking their cars on the sidewalks and forcing people to walk on the street. That should be illegal and unless we change this habit we’ll never have walkable neighborhoods. Sidewalks need to be safe, well lit and shaded.
Personally, I don’t see what’s wrong with a pedestrian bridge. I think it’s a more than valid option, and in fact it can offer several unique opportunities. You can only access a typical bridge from two points so it will naturally act as a funnel for pedestrians and bicyclists. This means that around the entrance to a bridge you will have people walking more than in other places. This is usually also the place where most of Kuwait’s ‘mamshas’ (excercise/running paths) are located. Maybe this can be a stimulus for commercial development, which would further attract people there and create a ‘virtuous cycle’ that will get more and more people to walk.
What would the ‘commercial development’ look like? I imagine it starts off with drastically improved ‘mamsha’ infrastructure, meaning more benches, shade, water coolers and most importantly it should be well lit and have clearly delineated termination points, so people know when to turn around and go the other way.
This would develop into nodes that would nudge people to congregate around the pedestrian bridges, and we could invest in juice shops, healthy food cafes, maybe a public swimming pool, a flower garden with space for people to exhibit their homemade work and sell to people walking by, and I would anchor all of this with a mosque/library/daycare center hybrid. Of course, this can only work outside of summer. Even so, it would absolutely be worth the investment because of both the financial rewards as well as the improvements in public health and space. Eventually, as the metro routes currently being considered mostly follow our road patterns, the stops could be located at the foot of the pedestrian bridges. That would be the best place to have them and it will further strengthen the pedestrian culture that will have started to develop.
Short of drastically altering the highways system of Kuwait, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious way of stitching back the neighborhood fabric of Kuwait without building more bridges. An interesting mega solution that might work for parts of the First Ring Road and other sunken highways is to extend a park over them so that the highway becomes a tunnel and the new land above it links the two banks of the highway together, like what is being done in Los Angeles.
-A very successful pedestrian bridge in Kuwait, linking Khaldiya Campus with Adailiya.
A transect shows a sequence of progression through the increasing density of a city from the rural areas to the urban core. Transportation, landscape and ecology, buildings, setbacks and all the details of life should vary across the transect.
“The importance of transect planning is particularly seen as a contrast to modern Euclidean zoning and suburban development. In these patterns, large areas are dedicated to a single purpose, such as housing, offices, shopping, and they can only be accessed via major roads. The transect, by contrast, decreases the necessity for long-distance travel by any means.”
The idea is used as a guideline to zoning laws to create urban environments that will ultimately be greater than the sum of its parts. The gradual increase in density is preferable to sudden changes, but that’s not really the point. What matters most is that there is a huge variety of spaces and building types all within the same area.
Kuwait City is obviously too large an area to plan it successfully as one large transect, but it’s interesting to note that there are only three different levels of density in Kuwait:
There is the desert, which is punctured by incredibly large buildings that seem illogical and out of place. Then there is the endless matte of suburban (yet highly dense) housing zone. The third and highest level of density is also weird; it is inconsistently dense, meaning there are huge towers all around, but there are lots of empty plots of land everywhere as well.
It would have been much better had we followed a more consistent and gradual increase of density for Kuwait City, but we have to work with what we have. There is an opportunity to follow a similar idea of varied density within the residential areas themselves. This is something that I mentioned in my Pecha Kucha presentation a few months back. (By the way, the next event is on 5/5, which is this Wednesday. Be there!).
The idea is to create a transect within each residential neighborhood, creating varied spaces in the same walkable area. Here are some images that were used in the presentation:
Most residential neighborhoods now aren’t really neighborhoods. They are simply a large sprawl of detached homes that are only accessible by car and are not properly situated in their urban context. You have no place to walk to and everything looks the same.
The large difference in the range of densities allows for a wide variety of building types. This means that there are small detached homes, large dense homes (which is the only type that exists now) and highly dense towers. The increased density will allow for more people to live in the same area, but will create more open, public space which will be better utilized because there are more people and they now have stuff to do and places to walk to. Now if only we could get a transit network to link the urban core to the rest of the city…
I admit that the following exercise is almost comically biased, but I think it serves well to illustrate the point i’m always trying to make. People have become anonymous within their own neighborhoods and mosques have become the only place where a strong sense of community persists. What can we do to change that? Here is what I feel Kuwait could and should be like. Let’s follow two fictional people, Dalal and Faisal, through a Kuwaiti residential neighborhood as it is and how I imagine it could be:
Bad urbanism affects not only the way our neighborhoods look, but it also deeply affects our sociological and environmental well being. We devolved as a society because we stopped caring about the design of our neighborhoods and accepted our built environment as just the way things are. This brutal ignorance has to stop. So what can we do?
- We need to give urban designers and landscape architects a much stronger voice in planning neighborhoods and communities. The people in charge of planning Kuwait City are bored engineers. They might mean well, but they simply don’t have the tools required to understand the needs of life beyond what they already know. We need to replace them with energetic and knowledgeable young urban designers and give them the authority and responsibility to reshape our city.
- To do that we need to graduate lots of urban designers. This profession is different (but related) to architecture. There is a drought of urban design talent in Kuwait and we need to remedy this as soon as possible.
- All residential neighborhoods require a nearby third place to give people someplace to walk to. People who gather there are members of the community, not random people from far away that you find in a mall.
- Walkable communities need to be anchored by a mosque, which would act as the catalyst of pedestrian urban development. A park/mosque/library hybrid should be attempted.
- Trees, trees, trees. Shade and fresh air.
- Sidewalks are more important than street width. If the roads aren’t safe, kids won’t play, and if they do it’s dangerous.
You can find more ideas here. Kuwait has so much potential to be a great place to live. Let’s not waste our resources on mega-projects that benefit a few people while neglecting the immediate environment where we spend most of our time. We deserve better and we should do our best to make it better for ourselves and for our children.
I shot that video today walking through the park. It’s just as filthy as when I last saw it. It’s a shame, because the park itself is pretty decent. You can hear the birds and the trees are healthy. What would it take for the park to be successful? First of all, how would we define success? I think it has to be a place full of kids and families, a place that they feel safe going to and enjoy being in. No litter and graffiti. The park has to be well lit at night, not with stupid floodlights that blind people who look in their direction, but with subtle lighting that does its job without being irritating.
It really wouldn’t take much of an effort to make that all happen. I still think the Facebook page idea is a good one and is the best way to get the community involved and ‘own’ the park for themselves. It’s a very achievable goal. I’ll probably do the Facebook page myself in a few weeks and I hope it turns out as well as I think it will. Any ideas?
Things we can do to fix it:
- Clean-up program with local kids (litter removal and painting over graffiti)
- More rubbish bins (one near every BBQ grill and seating area, people want to throw stuff in bins but they’re too far away or full)
- Cover the sand around the playground and wherever there’s sand with mulch. It’s safer and stores the nutrients in the soil. Mulch can be anything, but I suggest rubber mulch.
- Take out all of the stupid floodlights. They ruin the atmosphere and blind people who look near them. They’re the wrong choice.
- Install ground lighting around the running track and lights under every bench. The seating areas have to be individually lit from within as well as the circulation that leads to them. No dark spaces, but no annoying mega-lights either.
- Hire a maintenance guy and a security guy. The facility is there and it needs to be fixed. This is critical.
- Change the boring and unimaginative signs outside the park. They’re not inviting.
- This is a personal preference, and I understand the reason for having it, but I would demolish the wall and slowly expand the park outwards filling up all the dead space that surrounds it.
- The Facebook page.
- Plant a much wider variety of plants and flowers. There’s too much of the same thing and variety attracts more birds and is visually appealing.
Edit – I know i’m dancing around the topic, but I would LOVE to redesign the park…
Note: Please ignore the actual design, the image is mainly to illustrate the point and to show the potential program that can be in place.
A wonderfully simple video about efforts to retrofit suburbia. There are a few things we can take that apply to Kuwait. We don’t have the problem of having to ‘fill in’ the gaps, because most of our suburbs are very densely packed. The thing I found most appealing in the video is the notion of the ‘third place’.
The first two places are your home and workplace. The third place is where you go to hang out and is very important for a younger generation (like ours). We have lots of third places, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. The problem is that they’re usually really far away from where we live.
I’ll use Qortuba again as an example of an opportunity to create something. Here it is again:
In the middle is Block 5, a service block which has the shopping center, park, a couple of schools and some other services. On the corner, though, there’s a dead space. It’s huge, but it’s been deserted forever. Sometimes we have Eid Prayer there, but not last year, so we can cope without it. What can we do with this dead space?
The best opportunity is to expand the park to fill up all the sand. We can’t move the big boxes, as they’re power transformers and such, but we can still use them. We should build small boutiques and selected restaurants, all anchored by a large, outdoor fruit and vegetable market. These would all be attached to the existing walls of the power buildings.
The feel of the place would be one of ‘healthy living’. You go there for the health related shops, to enjoy the green space and nature, to run in the track (the brown thing) or just hang around in one of the coffee shops. You can take your kids out for a walk and to enjoy the playground in the park. The point isn’t that this stuff can’t be found in Kuwait. Places like this exist, but they’re too far away. I want people to walk to here. There’s lots of parking, anyway, but I still want people to walk.
The co-op would make money renting out the space and the residents will enjoy the new ‘third place’ in their lives instead of staring at the dusty nothing that was there before. What would it take to make something like this happen? The land is already zoned for commercial use (I think). Who owns the land?
Edit- I took a few photos of the site:
Click to embiggen