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.