Monthly Archives: November 2010

Wadi Hanifa Wetlands Project

By | Social, Urban | 5 Comments


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”

First Ring Road: A Catastrophe?

By | Urban | One Comment

I really believe that the First Ring Road expansion is a travesty of urban planning. I’m trying really hard to convince myself otherwise, but I just can’t seem to find any benefit from the project. The people in charge of it have a website,, and I found this diagram there that attempts to justify the project. I doubt this came from the consultant, but still, the idea behind the project is severely flawed.

From (My notes in red):: The projects aims to provide a free flow road on the entire First Ring Road which will have the following benefits:

1- Eliminate current and future congestion on Jahra Gate Roundabout

True, but it will create new congestion at each off-ramp. No less cars.

2- Provide a quick access to the city center via the main route

This is illogical. I don’t see how access is so fast as to justify the cost of the project. Speed isn’t the problem.

3- Reduce traffic on  Gulf Road

This may be true, but only because the traffic is pushed elsewhere. No less cars.

4- Improve land Development Potential

Highly speculative and doubtful. In fact, I would suggest the opposite, not to mention the reduced productivity during the construction and detours.

5- Reduce traffic congestion in the inner parts of the city and on the radial roads leading to it.

Untrue. It cannot possibly reduce traffic and I fear that the off-ramps will be congested during rush hour, just as they are now, since there will be traffic lights at each intersection.

My concern is that the northern section of the First Ring Road will basically cleave the city and carve out an island that is only accessible by car. There will literally be a sunken highway between the Stock Exchange and the Grand Mosque. Imagine that. What little walkability the city had will vanish, replaced by a loud and fuming highway.

The problem with congestion isn’t that people can’t get to the city fast enough. The problem is that there are just too many cars. People double park, so a two lane street ends up being one lane. You can’t find a place to park. The off-ramp is congested because the traffic light doesn’t let them all out at once, so they overflow onto the highway and block the path for those that want to pass. How will this project alleviate these problems?

There is some potential if we somehow find the courage to stitch the fabric of the city back together. The expansion design has a long sunken highway, seen in the diagram above. What if we literally cover the entire thing? What if it’s a tunnel instead of a sunken highway? We can then build a public plaza on top of it! Imagine a rich and vibrant landscape architecture that fills up all the interstitial spaces where the road used to be. A new park in the heart of the city instead of a throbbing, gaping wound.

I’m not sure how the details of this would work, meaning how to access the existing buildings, what the new public park would feel like, is the tunnel wide enough to make this feasible, and so on. Still, I think that this can be something very special. There are a lot of important public buildings in that area and so much potential for urban revival. The park can extend from the Slider Station strip, down to Safat Square and all the way to the Al-Babtain Library, where the tunnel ends.

This isn’t pie in the sky stuff. It’s been done in Los Angeles and is so successful that it’s being replicated in other cities. A vibrant city is one that allows for multiple modes of transportation. We will ruin Kuwait City if we cleave it with this ill-conceived project, but that violent act may provide us the opportunity to stitch it all back together again in a way that is better than it was before. That’s the whole point of renewal, right? To make things better, not worse.