Category Archives: Urban

Congestion Pricing

By | Metro, Urban | No Comments

A depressing series of studies (here, here and here) seem to indicate that no matter what we do, we will always have traffic. Building more roads, the metro and having more buses will not, it seems, make that much of a difference. People just find it very convenient to drive. The only way to make a real difference is by having a good public transport system coupled with a tough congestion charge.

Anyone who’s been to London in the past few years will have noticed that there aren’t that many cars on the road other than taxis and buses. The reason is that anyone driving in London has to pay a hefty fee in order to do so. That’s enough to persuade most people into taking the extra effort to walk to the bus or underground train. Dubai has a sort of congestion charge (Salik) which is more like a frictionless toll booth. I remember it having a positive effect.

This can never work unless we first build the public transport infrastructure. Without alternatives to driving we will just be punishing people without giving them a viable, safe and efficient option and the traffic will just migrate around the congestion charge zones creating new bottlenecks. I’m just saying that once the metro is built we may have to implement a congestion charge for it to effectively solve the traffic problem, otherwise it won’t do much.

Park Fence Removal

By | Neighborhood, Qortuba, Social, Urban | 4 Comments

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.

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:

Silent Jewels in the Desert

By | Urban | 8 Comments

I think a cautionary example of what Jassem is describing would be the Freedom Towers debacle. They had a very public competition, in which hundreds of designs were submitted. The winner, Daniel Libeskind, had a really cool looking but ultimately unfeasible design. With the bureaucracy and interests involved pulling the project in so many directions, the end result was an architectural farce. The design was compromised endlessly and it still hasn’t been built, 10 years after the attack. I guess what i’m saying is that even when things are (supposedly) open and in competition, there’s still lots of room for things to go wrong.

Also, my problem wasn’t that these designs are done after an architect is selected and there’s no motive to do good work. That’s not what i’m worried about. Most of the buildings that are the work of famous architects, buildings that are conceived to celebrate the city or the patrons, are usually show-off islands. They don’t integrate well with the city. We have too many bad examples of this in Kuwait, buildings that are surrounded by highways and aren’t really part of something more. They ignore their context, culturally and physically. We have too many silent jewels in the desert. It’s time to start thinking about how make a city that works, not a building that would ignore it.

Transit Oriented Development

By | Neighborhood, Urban | 3 Comments
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/17384147 w=400&h=225]

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.

Qortuba Opportunity

By | Neighborhood, Qortuba, Urban | 3 Comments

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?

Mixed Use Residential

By | Neighborhood, Urban | One Comment

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.

Measuring Success

By | Social, Urban | 8 Comments

Malls, skyscrapers and suburban living are western ideas that have been introduced into Kuwait. They haven’t evolved as a response to our climatic, social or urban concerns. They are foreign ideas, in every sense of the word.

Yet when asked, many people feel a strong sense of pride looking at our towering skyline and they point to malls being commercially and maybe even culturally successful. Why is that? Is it because they are a form of liberation from our nomadic/arab/islamic/’uneducated’ past? What does it mean for a city to be successful?

Have malls, skyscrapers and suburbia really improved our quality of life? Shouldn’t that be the ultimate measure of success? Happiness?

Kuwait City by hassan-q8

Average Speed Camera Network

By | Other, Urban | 7 Comments

It seems that the pilot project in First Ring Road (seen in the image below) was successful. I’m sure you’ve all seen the cameras that apparently don’t do anything. They are average speed cameras. Don’t worry, they haven’t been issuing fines yet (though they will starting Feb 2011). We’ve mentioned this before in our Traffic page. The idea is fairly simple; Two cameras photograph license plates and since the distance between the cameras is known, they can calculate the average speed of the cars.

Photo by Mark, 248am.com

What this means is that drivers no longer have an incentive to slow down before a camera, which is a major source of accidents. Even if you do slow down and speed up after passing one of them, it will still fine you if you average above the speed limit. You can’t avoid it.

It works by scanning the license plate of every car that passes through it. That’s why they changed the license plates recently to allow for better recognition. It uses an infra-red camera to photograph the car, so it works at night without a flash. The yellow thing is the infra-red light emitter. They have a state of the art data center built for this and they’re going to be using it for national security purposes and traffic monitoring as well.

Once the system is implemented it is possible to use the information to map real time traffic patterns. An interactive traffic map can be automatically generated and updated in real time. This would be published online so people can plan their routes. It’s possible that it could be integrated into car navigation systems so your route would be automatically adjusted based on traffic patterns. Software could be developed to create web and iPhone apps that take advantage of open source traffic information.

Photo by Mark, 248am.com

The only way we can reduce fatal car crashes is by making it impossible to get away with speeding. The current system is pathetically easy to fool. No system is foolproof, and neither is this one (you can install a reflective film over your license plate that messes with the recognition system), but it is far better than what we have now. I’m all for this, on all major roads in Kuwait.

Wadi Hanifa Wetlands Project

By | Social, Urban | 5 Comments

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coXbQYD2y4Y&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0]

Wadi Hanifa was once the lifeblood of Riyadh. Decades of development and neglect has turned this natural water source into sewage dump. A few years ago, the Saudis decided to revitalize the Wadi and the results are stunning.

What was once an open sewer is now a wonderful landscape and park system where children play and the water is naturally filtered and reused for irrigation. It’s a beautiful success story and an example for the entire region to follow. The project has won the 2010 Aga Khan award for Architecture:

“This project reverses the tide of rapid urban development, which has seen public space in many cities within the Muslim world fall victim to expropriation and other practices that deprive the population of its resources. This invariably happens at the cost of environmental values and sensitive ecosystems. The Wadi Hanifa Wetlands project eloquently demonstrates an alternative ecological way of urban development. It shows how a major natural phenomenon which, through the course of urbanisation, became a litter-strewn and dangerous place – a scar on the face of the capital city – can be transformed by sensitive planning attentive to social values and imaginative infrastructure driven landscape solutions.

The Award has been given in recognition of the project’s vision and persistence in developing a sustainable environment. Using landscape as an ecological infrastructure, the project has restored and enhanced the natural systems’ capacity to provide multiple services, including cleaning the contaminated water, mediating the natural forces of flood, providing habitats for biodiversity and creating opportunities for recreational, educational and aesthetic experiences”