Posted by: Barrak Al-Babtain | January 15, 2010

Event Recap: Pecha Kucha

 

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.


Responses

  1. Sadly I couldn’t attend but I could picture your presentation just looking at the slides here. I bet you changed something in the minds of your audience, I bet none of those 300 will jump up in a discussion of the future metro and dismiss it as a nonsense in our summer heat. In fact, I think they will carry your argument now and will defend the metro if they ever were to debate its feasibility or function in Kuwait.

    Events like these are really the best opportunity to spread the word.

  2. WOW! im truly and utterly amazed!
    u’ve truly said what i have on my mind into words especially when it comes to the structure of our neighborhoods… why dont we have grass lawns where children can play and people can interact rather than “chinko” and cars all over?
    We really can make this country look way better, but who’d listen. Allah Kareem😉 keep it up

  3. you should run for majlis al balady…. i would vote for you without thinking,

  4. Good job Barrak! Definitly more than 300 though…we’ve been keeping count!You can upload the video of your presentation to your blog as soon as its up on YouTube as well!

  5. Well done Barrak…

    It was a great presentation..!

  6. great presentation ..

    well done!!😉

  7. is that the steven holl project in beijing which you pictured as the dasma towers?

  8. Faisal, I hope you’re right. I would have liked to meet you, actually. Maybe another time.

    shoosha, thank you so much! Kids need room to run around and play but they also have to be safe and secure. There are very few neighborhoods like that in Kuwait, and they should and could have been designed a lot better. Concrete and asphalt don’t make for good memories or spark a child’s imagination.

    3abdullah, hah! Yeah, right.

    Aisha, thanks a lot! I can’t wait for the next one. Hope it’s even better! Next up, it’s Jassem.

    Tom, Q80BOY, thank you very much for coming and i’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Oisha, yes it’s the Linked Hybrid. It’s out of scale, but that’s what I had in mind for the towers. It has to have a mixed use and exciting ground level so that people don’t feel the need to go far away for entertainment. I’d imagine a lot of the people who want to start a small business (bakery, a bookstore, milkshake shop, ice cream place, etc) would just do it there, so they would even walk to work. There’d be a daycare center, maybe even an elementary school. The only way this would work is if we had a lot more density.

  9. Sorry I missed your prez but from what I heard it was the best.

    I face a lot of obstacles walking in Kuwait and one of them is that most streets have no sidewalk or have sidewalks that even cats wouldn’t use, judging by all the road kills I’ve seen. Another problem I face is crossing from one area to another, which basically is crossing the unnecessary ring roads or highways, especially from Bayan to Jabriya where I have to transform into a frog and hop from lane to lane to cross the almighty 5th praying not to get splattered.
    I’ve crossed the 5th several times on foot and I highly advise all not to because it’s extremely dangerous, but just try standing close to or by a highway and you will realize that pedestrians are not welcome. If I want to travel safe then I have to use one of the scarce pedestrian bridges, which will add 5-10 km to my journey making it difficult to even consider walking.

    to sum up:
    Kuwait roads are not pedestrian friendly.

    Barrak great job on the blog and wish you all the best, BTW this is the first time I ever post or blog or whatever it’s called and I’m glad to do so on a blog worthy of all the attention and interest.

  10. Keep up the good work!
    We need to do a lot of changes so that our future and the future of our kids will be better. One of them is redisining living spaces and pedestarian roads. Recently I witnesed a lot of constructing works going on in Al-salhyia area of Kuwait city. I work in Al-Jawhara Tower and I use to arrive about 30 min ahaed of my working time, so that I can take a walk. And in last weeks i could see some another kuwaiti ladies doing the same. And another good news is that that company i work for started using paper recycling programme.
    http://www.facebook.com/groups.php?ref=sb#/group.php?gid=33115610050

  11. a very interesting presentation (as well as the blog) … I use to bring up the point of creating a “walkable” city so am glad u mentioned that … i hope to read something about renovating existing buildings here in the city … i believe that there are buildings from the 7o’s that are worth saving and giving a complete face lift … and some that need some cleaning up and maybe some colours (miami style) … anyway hope you can post something on that note!

    Keep it up!

  12. Right, there are no “Pedestrians Only” zone in Kuwait which can make walking a pleasure. As it is, the no. of obese in Kuwait have boomeranged of late, due to the “Ubiquitous Car Culture”. An area like say the Salem Mubarak street in Salmiya is a idea place for “Pedestrians Only” zone. We also need open wide comfortable green community spaces (other than mosques) where the whole family can enjoy an outing or evening.
    Some MPs need to take this on as a project and mission.

    Q8Life
    http://q8life.wordpress.com

  13. Hi q8life,

    There’s actually been quite a bit of blog-debate regarding ‘SAM Street’ (Salem Al-Mubarak Street) during the last few months…

    Check out some earlier submissions on this blog, as well as at the one included below.

    http://kuwaitschool.blogspot.com/search/label/SAM%20Street

    Ta,

    Tom

  14. Great job Barrak, well thought out plan. Hopefully you’ll run for Majlis el baladi, we’ll vote for you, and you can start putting your vision into place.


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