There was a huge turnout at PK#4, more than #3. I’m guessing it was over 300 but I could be wrong, it might have been more. Thanks to Dr. Aseel and all the organizers for their wonderful job, and I hope the next one is even better. For those that were there, thanks for coming and i’m sorry I had to read it from my iPhone. I couldn’t wing it, and since there wasn’t a podium I couldn’t bring notes.
For those who weren’t there, i’ll post the entire presentation:
People tell me that it’s just too hot to walk in Kuwait. That there’s no point in designing outdoor spaces because you can’t use them. I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse. I believe that the way we built the city has forced us to think like that, and not the other way around.
If you look back at all the major developments of the past 20 years, you’ll find that they’re mostly private shopping malls. The problem is that they’re very inward looking. They don’t interface with their surroundings. We end up with great looking buildings but isolated buildings. They’re not part of an urban fabric and they’re very self serving. You can pick them up and plop them anywhere and it wouldn’t make a difference.
It’s now a sort of virtual city where every place is a destination but there’s nothing in between. Just a transitory haze you see outside a car window. So we begin to ask ourselves, for a nation so wealthy, why is our public space so impoverished?
All of these small decisions accumulate and start to develop into a sort vicious cycle. Places are isolated and you can only get there by car. You have to drive now to go anywhere. This makes the city car dependent which encourages more driving. The cycle goes on and on forever and we no longer have a choice.
A good example of this design mentality is Arraya. The face of the building is entirely wasted. They ignored what I think is the most important part of the building. There’s actually a service corridor behind that wall. The space looks nice, but it doesn’t really do anything. It’s a wasted economic opportunity.
What if they decided to open up the wall to the shops and restaurants inside? You’d have a similar sort of experience as Salhiya and the Slider Station strip and it would have been a wonderful place to be this time of year. The action is an alluring invitation.
Our residential neighborhoods are slowly turning into glorified parking lots. Sometimes you’re forced to walk on the street because there’s no room. People have become anonymous within their own neighborhoods as there’s no public space to meet and for kids to play and no room to walk and exercise.
That’s because there’s a sort of uniform density in most areas that imposes just one dwelling type to exist; the large family home. The problem now is that so many people want to live in those areas that the density keeps increasing. More people and cars are filling up the same space and it’s reaching a critical mass where it no longer works.
What if we go back in time. What could we have done differently? What would Kuwait be like?
An important step would be to introduce a way to have two different dwelling types to exist and compliment each other. We would do that by having a varied density to the residential areas. In the middle, instead of the shopping center, we would have a high density core.
Surrounding that would be spaces that have much lower density. There would be wide, green public spaces with large front gardens and a long strip for walking, separate from parking. Most importantly, there’s now enough room to have trees lining every street on both sides.
This would create shade and filter the air the air from dust. There’s room for kids to play and people to meet and exercise. In the dense core, we would have a mixed-use urban park, with restaurants and shops and green areas surrounded by a few apartment towers. Most of the apartments will have people from the neighborhood living in them, people that want to live close to their families but can’t afford to buy a house.
So instead of building a floor on their existing home and ruining it and adding more cars, they could just live a few blocks away in a comfortable apartment. So now we have two dwelling types that are sharing the same walkable space; single family homes and apartments. Two modes of living that accommodate different lifestyles and budgets.
Another thing we would have done is build the Kuwait Metro. This project has been in the planning stages for decades, and I hope now that Dubai has beat us to it, that we might start getting jealous and build one ourselves. Kuwait can benefit a lot more from a metro, because we already have somewhat walkable areas, such as parts of Hawalli, Salmiya and the City and linking them together gives people the option of living a car free lifestyle.
As you can see, all of the major university campuses, malls and ministries have a metro station. I’d also have one at the urban cores of the residential neighborhoods, so you have a stop in Qortuba, Keefan, Al Nuzha, etc. This would mean that all of our urban cores are now linked together. A dense network of walkable spaces will start to emerge around each metro station. You would now have the option of walking anywhere you want.
All these decisions will start to accumulate and a virtuous cycle now starts to form. More walking encourages safer streets, which encourages more people to walk, and people attract more people and it keeps getting better and safer.
What emerges from that is a dense, rich, urban ecosystem where multiple modes of transportation interact to compliment each other. The city will feel far more alive and nourished. You can encourage social and economic progress through good urban design, and simply saying that it’s just too hot to try isn’t really good enough. We can do a lot better.