Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | September 3, 2009

Qortuba 2.0

I’ve lived in Qortuba all my life. There is something very wrong in the way it has evolved. Like all modern Kuwait, it’s a planned residential development. First, the government divided up the land and laid roads and power lines. People built their homes on plots that range from 500m2 to 1000m2. With time, land began to subdivide into even smaller plots, with people living relatively densely.  The priority given to automobiles and the lack of rules that govern parking spaces and car ownership has resulted in a serious problem. There is no room to walk! People have no choice but to use their cars and drive, even if they can walk and the weather is fine. Today is ‘girgai’aan’ in Kuwait and it was heartbreaking to see children being driven from house to house collecting candy.

qortuba_street

Current number of homes in Qortuba:

Block 1: 466
Block 2: 750
Block 3: 535
Block 4: 636

Total: 2387 homes in Qortuba

If we assume that each residence is home to 6 people, that would mean approximately 14,322 people live in Qortuba, which has an area of 2.7km2 giving it a urban density of 5304 people per square km. This is comparable to that of Madrid and London (source). There is no lack of urban density in Kuwait’s residential areas. This is a good thing, as suburban sprawl is a crippling problem in lots of major developed countries, specifically in the United States. Are we really utilizing this density in beneficial ways? It seems to me that we are building densely yet living in a delusional suburban fantasy. We are taking the worst of both worlds and not getting anything good in return.

Dense Urbanism:

Advantage:

  • Walkable neighborhoods.
  • Social awareness and strong community values.
  • More people living closer together because of expensive land value
  • Public transportation
  • Mixed use neighborhoods
  • Closer to the city

Disadvantage:

  • Noise
  • No room for children to play outside
  • Smaller homes

Suburbanism:

Advantage:

  • Larger homes
  • Private front garden
  • Wonderful views and peaceful environment
  • Cheap land

Disadvantage:

  • Long commute
  • No community
  • Single use zoning (shopping far away)
  • Drive to go anywhere

Qortuba:

Advantage:

  • Close to the city

Disadvantage:

  • No community
  • Single use zoning (shopping far away)
  • Drive to go anywhere
  • Noise
  • No room for children to play outside
  • Smaller homes

roads

The residential model of pre-oil Kuwait was far more successful in providing better advantages than what we enjoy in our current urban condition. The automobile is an essential part of modern life but we have to stop giving it complete priority in urban design. I find it very disturbing that the first decision made in ‘planning’ Qortuba (or any other area) was not creating a walkable ‘fireej’ with a mosque as the community anchor, or a series of mixed use nodes that would allow for residential neighborhoods to organically emerge based on topography and microclimates. No, the first thing they did was to create a nice, symmetrical street plan. I don’t mind having streets alongside every house, what I do mind is that it all seems so arbitrary. I can imagine a lonely planner sitting in a dusty government office sketching those street plans 40 years ago, not knowing that his decisions will have an negative impact on the lives of thousands of people. What are the alternatives?

qortuba

Qortuba, Kuwait

florence

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy is one of Kuwait City’s official sister cities. They, like most of Europe, have a program to limit the number of cars inside their dense neighborhoods. This leaves more room for gardens and space to walk. Looking closer, Masdar City seems like a good place to start. What if Qortuba was a car-free zone? How could that work? What if pedestrian priority and a Fireej mindset were the most important elements? We have to create walkable islands, each with a local mosque and all the essential amenities within walking distance (groceries shopping, daycare, beauty shops, etc). No central ‘jam’iyah’, or shopping co-op. We have to decentralize the idea of a central shopping building as it simply doesn’t make any sense.

It would be a self-sustaining town with courtyards at both scales, green roofs, grey-water recycling, smart metering and localized energy production (solar and wind). Kids would bicycle to school and couples would walk to restaurants and cafes. Teenagers would play in football pitches and basketball courts which are visible to all pedestrians.

We are trapped in a way of life that is not Kuwaiti or modern. To break free, we have to know ourselves first and agree on what we truly believe in as a community and as a country. Only then will we ever truly progress.


Responses

  1. who knows the history of the planning of this suburb knows that even the lousy planning guidelines where broken because of the influence of the owner of the suburb who wanted to get the max no of plots and even got commercial freehold branches there and in surra .
    its sad , very sad … what they are doing to this country …..
    but i think the source of the problem is the lack of qualified urban planners ,, actually , based on my experience i can say that there are paper pushers not urban planners in baladiya …

  2. The land that comprises Qortuba was completey owned Sheikh Salem Al-Ali, and was carved up into tight little plots to sell the maximum number of plots that he possibly could

    You’ll notice there are no little parks or any green spaces of any kind. Why “waste” that on parks when there’s money to be made?!

    Sad

  3. Great post! I completely agree with what you said!

    Qurtoba started out to be a good idea until people started to get greedy. In some areas it is very crowded with no room for the people occupying the houses.

    Nice comparison to Italy!

  4. Qurtoba is one of those very dense areas, and baladiya just organizes it on their whim instead of really planning it out.. Especially Block 1 in Qurtoba is pretty bad.. they need to organize the land plots and that would regulate the cars but if they subdivide it so much then the density increases so much its bad

  5. It’s one thing to plan… and a completely different thing to implement!

    In my area, Mangaf, the infrastructure is finally being done now and will be completed in 2011. The area I’m in (block 1) was also planned as a residential area. A developer bought all the plots directly in front of my house. They built apartments in what was 22x 400m plots. Instead of 22 homes, there are probably (my modest guess) 80 apartments! Can you imagine the impact on space/cars/traffic/people?

    http://mangaf.net/2008/10/27/something-out-of-nothing-2/

  6. Zaydoun pretty much nailed it there.

    That’s the reason for Qurtoba’s problem.

    I live in Surra and there is a huge plot of land uninhabited, just desert, in middle of a major neighborhood. Is that land going to be built as a public garden (we need one) or will it be split into plots for sales.

    Nobody knows. And we are entering the second decade of the empty plot of land.

    You can see it some it if here: http://www.hilaliya.com/124567022534_laborer.jpg

    It is curently used to dump garbage and for trucks to pick up materials.

    Who owns this land? And why isn’t anything be done about it.

    There should be laws and regulations on how long a piece of land can stay unbuilt/unused if its in a neighborhood or major metro area.

  7. hilaliya, that’s what I was trying to show with the two images of Florence and Qortuba. Those two shots are from the same elevation of two very similar urban densities. The big difference is that there are far more green spaces in Florence. You can see small ones in courtyards and bigger public gardens. In Qortuba the only green space is the gated park in the middle, and the fake grass of the football pitches in the schools.

    Irrigation is an issue, but it’s not insurmountable. We already use recycled water to irrigate. There is the option of xeriscaping, landscaping using elements that require little to no water. We have alternatives, but the leadership is impotent.

  8. I’ve lived most of my life in Salmiya where everything is a walking distance away. But the apartments I’ve lived in were located right on the main shopping street of Salem Mubarek so once I got out of the house I was on the main shopping street and could walk to anywhere I wanted to.

    If you live just 2 buildings behind mine there isn’t a proper path that will lead you to the main commercial street. There are no sidewalks behind my house, there are no clear cut paths just buildings surrounded by cars, garbage and cats. In London when you’re walking on Oxford Street and you take a random right, you continue walking on the sidewalk and you could keep walking on a sidewalk until you get to the river. And then you can stay on the sidewalk and cross a bridge that still has a sidewalk and continue to walk on the sidewalk until you’re not in London anymore.

  9. that’s a scary statistics,, i live in Block 1 but in a less packed neighbor

    all that is another evidence of kuwait being a third world country

  10. I’m from Qortuba block 2, and I completely agree. There used to be a big plot of land next to our house were we used to ride our bikes when we were kids, but now another house is built on that land. There’s barely enough room to walk out of my house now that the other house is built there. They just keep packing in houses and trying to fit in as many people in a small place, and any sidewalk you see has a car parked on it, leaving no room to walk. I’ve been living here well over 13 years, and I’m moving next month. Found a better place with much more room, and a park right outside the house for my kids to play in.

  11. cool analysis fellow blogger!
    it’s nice to read about urban development in kuwait once in awhile🙂

    thanks and keep ’em coming

  12. Mark, that’s a truly liberating feeling. You get that in almost every major city in the developed world, with the exception of some of the more car-centric cities of the US such as Los Angeles. It’s not because of the weather. All it takes is a few enforceable rules and changes in zoning laws to fix this. I’ll write up a post to start a discussion about this.

    Khalid, yes the parking problem is very bad in Qortuba. Its a safety hazard and an eyesore. Greed ultimately results in reduced quality and standards. I think problem arose the moment Qortuba was seen as a profit machine and not as a habitable place to live. There are things private citizens can’t deal with on their own, such as unsustainable density and inadequate planning. With time, Qortuba will develop a reputation as being one of the least desirable of the surrounding areas, and the land value will fall accordingly. This would force people to cram more houses to make up for the decrease in equity and the problem will get worse.

    There has to be an intervention now to fix things or else it will be too late. Maybe we should dedicate a single post where we can all propose specific solutions to some problems in Qortuba (and then in every other area). How does that sound?

  13. The average Kuwaiti household consists of 8 members, not 6. In addition, many houses in Qurtuba have been designed to provide rental income to the house owner. In other words, the plots were designed to have single family houses, but in reality, there are more than one family living on these plots. Therefore, the infrastructure was never designed for the population to be this dense. To make matters worse, some 750 sq. m. plots were later allowed to be divided into 375 sq. m. As a result, most of the back streets can no longer accommodate two-way traffic due to cars parking on both sides of the street. IOW, Qurtuba has become a large car park. To a lessor extent, the same situation can be seen in Jabriah, Surra, and Yarmouk; all these areas were once one plot of land somehow owned by one or a few people who were hugely influential. But if you want to see a real catastrophe, then check out the hood in Salwa.

  14. Yeah, I was using 6 as a conservative estimate, but you’re right 8 might be closer to reality (especially considering domestic staff). You really can’t force people into specific living arrangements, they own the land and they should be allowed to do whatever they want inside of them. What they should not be allowed to do is to have more cars than they can accomodate. If they think that they don’t have to sacrifice valuable floor space for parking, then they won’t. They see it as a luxury because you can always park outside on the street.

    The best way that I can see to do this is to mandate that no cars be allowed to park on the street, which would force people to park on their ‘irtidaad’ or pavement, and not on the street. Any car parked on the street would be fined something like KD20 every time. This means that if people want 7 cars, they have to make sure their house is designed to accommodate that.

    I’m not sure if this would make the town more walkable, but it would definitely make it safer and easier to drive. You can also be sure that the car dealers would fight as hard as they can to stop this from happening.

  15. Speaking of lack of parking spots. I just dropped off a package to this guy who lives in this area near Amman street. While waiting in my car under his building for the guy to come down I noticed something strange. There were 4 columns of parking under his building. Each column can take 3 cars back to back, one car per flat with the flat number hanging down over the spot. So when the guy came down I was like dude, it says flat 7 there, flat 8 behind it and flat 9 here. If flat 7 wants to leave and flat 8 and 9 have their cars parked behind him what does he do? He was like you see that harris? I was like yeah, he was like the harris has a copy of every car key. When flat 7 wants to leave he moves the flat 8 and 9 cars out of the way.

    Talk about poor planning.

  16. Haha Mark…That explains it! I’ve seen those kinds of buildings and have always wondered what was going on with the parking.

  17. I read the article ( impressed again) and a sad melody started to play in my head..
    How very true that greed have blinded out the planners and the house buliders.. resulting in a claustrophobic crowded Qortuba.. very jammed.. no sense of landscape or greenery whatsoever.. blocks and blocks of concrete and mismatched colors killing space for air to flow or lights to brighten rooms..
    not to mention suffocating driveways..

    “We have to decentralize the idea of a central shopping building as it simply doesn’t make any sense”.
    Can’t be more true..

    Thank you BAbtain u spoke our hearts out..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: