Posted by: Jasem Nadoum | June 21, 2009

Walking in Kuwait

Kuwait City has suffered from a lack of appropriate density ever since we abandoned the old mud houses and demolished the Soor. Large plots of land have been left vacant for decades. This was the Governments’ way of buying property from Kuwaiti families and granting them land and houses in the new areas surrounding the old town. Brand new streets were laid. New building codes were devised that informed the construction of the New City, each zone with its appropriate code.

Before this exodus, there was a vibrant density in the city. There were different building types that aggregated to form a rich urban fabric. Wherever there was density, there was life. After the second Gulf War, new malls were erected and new attitudes towards shopping and leisure replaced the old mentalities. This left the old structures in despair far beyond their physical ruin. Kuwaitis began to shun the old town for the more chic and sleek malls. Salem Al-Mubarak Street became the focal point of Kuwait, so much so that the opening ceremony of Hala Febrayer was held there.

The City, the old town, is now alive only until 2pm everyday, where it is evacuated almost completely after work hours. There are signs however that it is changing and new urban renewal projects are emerging, such as Salhiya Plaza and the new trendy restaurants in front of Seif Palace. We will focus on such projects in greater detail in later posts. Also, I will highlight a hidden street that is coming alive recently, which surprised me with its unusual character.

Those are only minor face lifts to a much deeper problem. A more forceful and drastic solution to the lack of density is the Disneyland-like Heritage Village being constructed in front of Souq Sharq, beside the new headquarters of the Central Bank and the Al-Babtain Library. The project, even with its fakeness and insult to our history and way of life, is an important step if only to create a walkable experience in our Downtown. The irony of that project is that during excavation, they found historical ruins of great archeological value. This has delayed the project for several years. How ironic that by attempting to build a fake town that would remind us of the old, we dig up the actual remains of the reality it wanted to imitate.

It is worth noting that walking and exploring any city is the most rewarding experience one can get from traveling abroad, so why not have that same excitement, that same sense of discovery and wonder, here in Kuwait City? Change takes time and we must make sure that every step we take is in the right direction. If we do that, then maybe in the future we’ll be walking and exploring what Kuwait City has to offer. Let’s hope so.


Responses

  1. It still breaks my heart whenever I see these vast dusty open spaces in the middle of the city. Why tear something down if you don’t have plans to replace it with anything?! And why not put some parks there instead?

    I once took a walk from Salhiya Plaza onto Fahd Al-Salem, and towards the Marriott (short stroll, I know) and was fascinated by the variety of shops that I normally don’t see as I zip past them in my car. And then I looked up and saw clotheslines and “slums”. Where else could this happen?!

    Nobody walks here, even when the weather is nice.. The city is simply not built for walking which is a real shame. But then this a condition that plagues most of the world’s newer cities. At least we’re not spread out and far-flung like Dubai

  2. Density is very complicated in Kuwait, for it is far away from being a uniform urban fabric.. I’m trying to do a density study now on Kuwait and it is really harder than simple calculation of population over area..

    Zaydoun,
    any empty area which remains so, always ends up to be surface parking, like that stupid surface parking they just did in the huge area in the way to al-shamlan mosque roundabout.. I was shocked, and I still believe that the city is made for cars instead of humans.

  3. Zaydoun;
    Kuwait City, like most gulf cities suffer from a rushed modernization. Those empty plots were supposed to be built in the future. That future never materialized. I hope that we will focus on this topic again in the near future, cause it is important.

  4. Speaking of that surprising street with life and character, could it be that pedestrian square and alleyway between Salhiyah Square and Sheraton Roundabout with all the asian shops and crowds? With our huge asian community you’d think we’d have an asian town already within the city, and that alley is starting to take that role.

  5. I think faisal you bring a very good point, but it is not the street i am referring to.

  6. I was actually just commenting about the areas adjacent to Salhiya, by the Brutalist complexes, currently predominantly occupied by East Asian expats and shops serving their needs – it seems to be, particularly of Friday evenings, amongst the only places in Kuwait with a true, sporadic and spontaneous, ‘Buzz’ about it..! Men, women children, couples and families all mingling and relaxing, dining, shopping, scoping, trading, posing or just ‘hanging’ in a locale that allows one to, in a way, become anonymous and ‘one’ with the crowd, something surprisingly difficult to do in a place like Kuwait where it seems like one has to always be a bit on guard…

  7. Walking is an issue in Kuwait because

    a) the weather is unbearable more than 7 months a year
    we can only blame ourselves for worsening the case!

    b) we don’t have a solid “downtown” – we don’t have an outdoor place where we could shop, hang out, n dine .. closest thing to that would be Salem ilMubarak street down in salmiiya, it has some cafes with outdoor seating but still, not much to do outside especially with a crowded street in the middle. It would be nice to have such a place with no cars allowed, which brings us right back to point A.

    c) people stare a lot – i guess u cope with that when ur inside a mall, but outside, on the street, it’s kindda creepy man, especially with members of the “labor force” widely dispersed everywhere .. their eyes do much more than looking .. it’s sick

    Let’s do something!

  8. a) I think 7 months is a huge overstatement. I agree that 3, maybe 4 are unbearably hot when standing in direct sunlight. Even so, if it’s shaded properly, and well ventilated, an outdoor space even in the most extreme heat can be tolerable. We’re lucky it’s not humid. Take a look at this: http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/energyplus/weatherdata/2_asia_wmo_region_2/KWT_Kuwait.Intl.AP_KISR.stat <–This is weather data taken at Kuwait Airport. If you look at the Dry Bulb temperature (the ambient temp outside) you'll see that they describe only 5 months as being extreme. I would argue that this is a very conservative estimate, as they describe extreme weather as being anything +30C.

    Also, Global Warming has less to do than with a perceptible increase in temperature than with a Global change in weather patterns. You wouldn't really feel it getting hotter, but the weather will get weird.

    b) Yes, I agree. There are some pockets but we mainly live in a car dominated urban landscape. Its a major problem.

    c) Not sure how we could fix that…


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