We talked about varied urban densities in a previous post, but what would those look like? Most residential neighborhoods in Kuwait have lost all sense of character and have become glorified parking lots for bigger and bigger houses. Cars fill the sidewalk entirely. People are now sometimes forced to walk on the street.
There is simply no public space anymore, no invitation to linger and stroll. Neighbors have become anonymous to each other as there is no shared space for them to meet and for their children to play. Better rules and enforceable regulations can help us get back to a more livable and rich urban space. It’s really not that hard, but we do have to sacrifice something in return.
Streets are mostly designed by traffic engineers, which is evident in the lack of consideration for anything other than the automobile. If density was lower, a 2 meter sidewalk extension could be added everywhere. The sidewalk has to be continuous and allow for wheelchair access and bicycles; meaning no random changes in material and height. This would allow people to have the option to park their cars outside their house and still have enough room for people to walk comfortably and for trees to be planted to shade the street and filter the air. The trees are crucial. They, of course, shade the street and sidewalk, filter the air from dust and also provide some privacy for the upper floors of houses. There are lots of drought tolerant varieties that are adapted to Kuwait and I don’t think anyone would disapprove if every street in Kuwait was lined with trees.
Having a grass filled sidewalk would also cool the space significantly as the albedo (heat absorption and reflectance) of grass is different from that of concrete and asphalt. Heat is absorbed by asphalt but is mostly reflected by grass, and this reduces the ‘urban heat island’ effect. The difference in perceived temperature can be as much as 20 degrees between a sun exposed asphalt surface and a tree-shaded grass area.
It’s hard (but not impossible) to retrofit these ideas onto the more cramped residential neighborhoods, but it can be easily done on a lot of the older streets with big sidewalks and should be done on all new developments. I can imagine lots of people running and exercising, kids riding bicycles, couples out on walks pushing a baby stroller. Lots of people drive all the way to the Avenues to have a comfortable walk and exercise. That’s a sad indictment of the state of our neighborhood design and planning. We can do much better than this but we have to demand change from the people in charge and renew one street at a time.