Jaber Bridge

By | Other | 24 Comments

Without traffic the bridge will save about 25 minutes from the journey. Let’s say someone lives in Mishref and wants to work in Silk City. In order for that person to drive to the entrance of the bridge they have to go through the traffic leading to it, which is through Shuwaikh Industrial and the port. This area is already congested and will be more so with everyone passing through to get to the bridge. The same will be true on the Silk City side. In the end, I will be very surprised if the total journey is less that it would be to take the longer detour around the city and the bay.

It might seem like the bridge will save about 20 minutes or so from every journey but in order to do so there will be more traffic in the city as a result, having paid KD20 million for each kilometer. The project will be a national disaster. We should not wait for that to happen and we must scrap the project entirely. It is an ecological nightmare, a fiscal disaster and will add to the existing traffic gridlock.

A more fiscally prudent and ecologically sensitive solution would be to just use the existing road to Silk City/Subbiya. What’s wrong with that? We don’t ruin Kuwait Bay, we don’t burn KD700 million and we don’t increase the traffic problems in our already crippled city. In fact, we can use the land there to extend the city further. The bridge would slow this down.

There are far better uses for the money than this terrible idea of the bridge. I understand that it’s an easy way for some to loot public funds, but i’d rather we find a way without leaving us with a 35 km monster for us to forever deal with.

Hidden Taxes in Kuwait

By | Politics, Social | 3 Comments

There’s a difference between pride and patriotism. People keep asking for more handouts and assume that we don’t pay any taxes in Kuwait. Sure, our salaries and income isn’t literally taxed, but we pay for our political and social dysfunction in other ways.

We pay an incompetence tax when regulations aren’t enforced and food is tainted, buildings overdeveloped and stocks manipulated. We pay a monopoly tax when land is restricted and severely overpriced while laughably slow internet is unreasonably expensive. We pay an inflation tax as every time the government raises salaries and benefits so does the price of everything else. We pay an inequality tax when insecure parents enroll their children in exclusive private schools that increase segregation and stratification. We pay an opportunity tax when smart, passionate and creative individuals are numbed by an indifferent and hostile bureaucracy into a life of stable monotony or even exile to achieve their dreams.

Money is great but more money is usually a bad thing. It skews incentives and unbalances relationships. I’d rather be taxed at 60% and live in a country blessed with justice, opportunity and freedom for all, but we’re blessed with oil and that solves everything, right? Is it not patriotic to want to be proud of our country?

Is It Hot Outside?

By | Energy, Social | 6 Comments

It feels so good inside ourselves we don’t want to move.*

Obesity has been linked by some with the constant use of central air conditioning. I’m not sure i’d go that far, but it does help us maintain a comfortable sedentary existence which is generally the cause of a lot of our health problems as a society. Comfort is killing us.

There’s usually a struggle to find a way to design a house with livable and usable outdoor space while expecting the ‘inside’ of the house to stay airtight all the time. What about the dust? How would you stop the cold air from escaping? There are lots of alternatives to central air. It’s silly and selfish to keep a big indoor space cool when there’s no one in it.

Our bodies have not evolved with the luxury of a constant and perfect climate. We store food to have spare energy to burn when it gets a little colder than we’d like, or when there are days when food is scarce. Ramadhan is round the corner and as usual people will gain weight. There isn’t an easy answer to being healthy and living sustainably as a society both in terms of bodily and economic health.

We have to accept the reality that there are compromises that have to be made. A little less comfort can be a good thing, but I still don’t want to move. Change is hard and i’m comfortable right now.

*Sly

مربعات

By | Other | No Comments

أنا بدأت أشعر بالقلق إزاء وجود اتجاه سيء للغاية في تصميم المنازل الكويتية . عملاء يطلبون نظرة و أسلوب “عصري” دون فهم حقيقي لما هم يطلبون. لمعظم الناس الطراز العصري يعني الصندوق البارد، ذو زوايا حادة مع الكثير من النوافذ المستطيلة والأثاث باهظة الثمن. الحداثة ليست طراز، وانها عملية. يمكنك تغيير التثليج على الكعكة، لكنها لازالت شوكولاته في الداخل.

الشيء الأكثر أهمية، وخاصة بالنسبة للبنية السكنية، هو أن الفضاء يحسن نوعية الحياة للسكان بقدر ما يمكن في حدود الميزانية المتاحة.

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عملاء يطالبون أنهم لا يعيشون في صناديق. عندما كنت أطلب منهم التعبير عن السبب في ذلك، فإنها عادة ما تنتهي بحجة أن الجميع يبنون مربعات مملة،  غير “خلاقة”. وأعتقد أن انهم قلقون من أن الشكل الممل يمثل سكن ممل. من يهتم؟ لماذا يجب أن يكون  الشكل الخارجي الهدف الأساسي من التصميم؟ المنازل ليست شيئا ينبغي أن ينظر إلي. أنت تعيش فيها.

ما أحاول أن أؤكد عليه بقدر ما يمكنني هو أن نوعية الحياة هي العنصر الأكثر أهمية، وليس عدد الغرف أو المساحة. تلك هي مجرد وسائل للمطورين العقاريين لبيع المنازل، وهو في الحقيقة لا معنى له في الواقع. ما هي الهدف في وجود المزيد من الغرف أكثر مما تحتاج إليه إذا كانت كلها مواجهة للجيران، مضاءة بشكل سيئ، وأثاث غير مناسب أليس كذلك؟ لماذا يكون لمنازل بهو كبير في الإستقبال إذا كنت في نهاية المطاف من الذين يعيشون في الطابق العلوي معظم حياتك ونادرا ما تنفق أي وقت في الطابق الأرضي؟ تكلفة الفرصة البديلة من المساحات المهدرة هائلة. الناس فقط لا يستطيعون تصور بديل، والفاشل في نهاية المطاف هو المعماري لأنه من واجبنا أن نساعد في توضيح ما يمكن أن يكون، وينبغي القيام به.

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فيلا سافوي

فيلا سافوي Savoye هي  من المفترض أن تعتبر تحفة للحداثة. وقد صممت من قبل المعماري  لي كوربوزييه، رحبوا بها واعتبروها رمزا للحداثة واسلوبا عالميا لأنها كانت جديدة ومختلفة بالكامل. يمكن وضعها في أي مكان في العالم. بأنها آلة للحياة. في الحقيقة، كانت في الواقع كارثة. وطالب المعماري أن يكون السقف مسطح، لانه كان يعتقد ان الأسقف الحديثة ينبغي أن تكون مسطحة. تسربت الماء من السقف. وقد طالب المعماري أن لا تضاف  أي قطعةأثاث إلى تصميمه. هناك العديد من الأفكار الجيدة التي يتعين اتخاذها من فيلا سافوي (كيف تم رفع المنزل طابق واحد على أعمدة لاطلاق سراحه من الأرض)، وتفاعل رائع بين المساحات والفناء في الطابق الأول. كانت المشكلة في غرور المعماري التي سمح للطراز ليحل محل التطبيق العملي. نتيجة لهذا، فقد اكتسبت الحداثة  بأنها غير عملية. في الكويت، أرى الشيء نفسه مع الناس, بناء البيوت ذات النوافذ العملاقة التي تواجه الشمس. طبعا هم ليست عملية، ولكن مهلا، يبدو المنزل عصري وبالتالي فإن الناس الذين يعيشون فيه يجب أن يكونوا عصريين.

 

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:

Kuwait Metro: New Map

By | Metro | 10 Comments

Click image to enlarge (a bit)

I was just sent the redesigned plan for Kuwait Metro. I spoke to some people at KOTU and they confirmed that the metro lines are correct, but they have no idea about the tram lines; they seem to think that those aren’t very feasible and don’t know who added them to this map.

I think these latest changes are pretty great. Some thoughts:

  • No more stupid Gulf Road metro line. A major part of the original design was a line going from Salwa/Fahaheel all the way to Sharq along the coast. Imagine the sea-view in Kuwait being obstructed by an elevated railway. This is now only the case around Belajat Street, which makes sense because that area is already pretty dense.
  • Damascus Street! I’m still not sure how I feel about this, because I can’t be totally unbiased. Qortuba has 3 stations surrounding it! They’re really trying to make me happy. I don’t know how effective the Damascus line would be, though. It won’t work unless the areas undergo a complete ‘walkable street’ transformation with safer sidewalks, pedestrian bridges, bike lanes and shaded streets. As it is, I don’t see it working. The tram lines make a lot of sense to me. I could park my car/bike in the co-op, take the tram to the station and then go anywhere. I’m not sure they can work on some of the existing narrow streets, but it would make the Damascus line much more effective.
  • I’m not sure if Hawalli and Salmiya have been fully served. A lot of very dense areas don’t have a close enough metro stop.
  • They make the distinction between Park and Ride stations and simple metro stops (look for the grey ones).
  • Overall, it seems like a major shift has been made in order to make the Metro geared towards Kuwaitis living in the residential areas between 1st and 5th ring road, and away from the denser parts of Salmiya and Hawalli. I’m not sure if this was a good decision, as I doubt the residential areas will be allowed to increase their density anytime in the future. Salmiya and Hawalli residents, if given the option for a car free lifestyle, have a lot more room (politically and legally) to grow and densify even further.

The diagram I made below shows a 5 and 15 minute walk radius from every metro station. 15 minutes is a long time to walk in the summer, so looking only at the smaller 5 minute circles shows that the vast majority of the dense areas of Kuwait (except for the City) are very underserved. The relatively lower density residential areas (Nuzha, Faiha, etc) are easily accesible by comparison, which makes no sense.

Update: I don’t see why the Damascus line can’t just be a Bus Rapid Transit line, since it’s already on a pretty wide road. BRT is a dedicated lane for specialized buses driving back and forth on a fixed schedule.

Biomimicry

By | Energy | 2 Comments
[ted id=1072]

If there was one thing that I would absolutely love to have in Kuwait, it would be the Sahara Forest Project. It is basically a hybrid desalination/greenhouse/concentrated solar plant. It uses concentrated solar energy which reflects sunlight to create heat that boils steam. The steam is forced through turbines and eventually condenses into pure water which would be used to grow crops. The video doesn’t do the system justice. There is such beautiful complexity in the way that every output is used as a resource to create value.

The great thing of course is that it doesn’t use any fossil fuels and has several useful outputs. It doesn’t look at energy production as a linear path, but as a closed loop. I don’t understand why we don’t already have several of these up and down the coast. Of course, the biggest challenge is what to do with the brine (very salty water) that is left behind. Kuwaiti waters are already saltier than normal because of our desalination, so we can’t expect to keep pumping more salt concentrations back into it. That seems to be the missing piece in all this.

Inputs

  1. Seawater
  2. Nutrients
  3. Carbon Dioxide
  4. Sunlight

Outputs

  1. Freshwater
  2. Reforestation
  3. Electricity
  4. Humid Air
  5. Food
  6. Biofuel

Bike Lanes

By | Other | 3 Comments
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/14815458 w=500&h=281]

I was surprised to learn that Kuwait doesn’t have a single bike lane. It’s not really that hard to implement if there’s enough density to justify it. The idea is that it be used both for recreation and potentially for commuting. There are a few places in Kuwait where a bike lane can work. Once the metro is in place, I can see a lot more places that can benefit from a bike lane, but for now I think the waterfront, probably around Marina Mall heading south, is the best option for now.