Follow by Email

Friday, December 25, 2009

Non-Shopping to Happiness (Expanding the Remit of SAM Street)...


Brief Note: This blog post has previously been published on the Kuwait School Blog. But as it deals with matters relevant to this blog, I thought it also fitting to include it here... TM


Spending Money is not an Activity...


“...shopping should never be the main reason for coming into the city.”


These wise words were stated by the Danish architect and urbanist Jan Gehl who is credited with transforming Copenhagen into one of the most 'livable cities' and aiding in making its people amongst the happiest. Some of the greatest pleasures in visiting a new city is just meandering, walking around almost at random, making decisions on the spot and 'following ones nose' according to various interesting features that catch ones fancy – let (the corner of) one's eyes, ears, nose lead the way... 'Doing nothing' is a valid urban activity – chatting with friends, daydreaming, strolling, people watching... Shopping can be 'a' reason, but shouldn't necessarily be 'the' reason for visiting a city.


An analysis of existing and potential future locations for parking, something which would become relevant when transforming parts of SAM Street into a pedestrian zone...


Most mall designs in Kuwait seem to be based on the same business template – build a large shed filled with retail spaces, find one or two anchor tenants (think Sultan Centre and Debenhams at Souq Sherq, or Ikea and Carrefour at Avenues Mall), place them at each end of the design (or occasionally below, as in the 360 Mall), include plenty of parking, and 'Bob's your uncle' – things will take care of themselves... That's not the case anymore, as Kuwait has by now become 'out-malled' – the ratio between potential consumers and malls have reached, even for a shopper's haven like Kuwait, a point of supersaturation beyond which there simply aren't enough consumers to frequent them all. The result is, as can be witnessed by the row of more or less abandoned malls around the western end of SAM Street (Galleria 2000, Mariam Shopping Mall, Al Bustan, to mention a few)...


By re-designing this section of SAM Street the balance and intensity of the area would be changed - this would be needed to take into account in the development of the neighbourhood...


The formulae for an enterprising business cluster needs to expand and begin including a more enriched, multi-dimensional and varied recipe of urban elements into its design.


It also has to be emphasized, in response to a comment by 'Mark' who lives at SAM Street, left in response to earlier posts, that the aim with this exercise is not to necessarily demolishing the street's buildings, but to retain the qualities that make it special and unique in Kuwait - the scale, proportions, heights of its buildings and the varying width of the street (a version of 'Pimp-my-Street', if you will) only here applied with perhaps a bit more forethought, care, practicality and, hopefully, elegance and style... The idea is not to change the area, as it's exactly the inherent qualities of SAM Street which make it so appealing, but to, call it, 'update' it, to retain its idiosyncrasies whilst expanding its idiom.


Nooks & Crannies...


It's important that there are things to discover, things that surprise you, when walking about. A bit further down the road from the 'Old Salmiya' end of SAM Street, opposite the M&S store, there are a myriad alleyways filled with privately owned women's shoe-shops, jewellers, bakalas, clothing-shops and other bric-a-brac stores selling everything and anything that one might fancy. The casual richness and value of such places should not be underestimated. It is this type of a locale that should be emulated on some of the currently empty back lots adjacent to SAM Street. They should be made up of pedestrian alleyways with smallish shops, ranging in size from, say, 5 square meter kiosks up to 70 square meter workshop-shops – the idea being that it would built upon an encourage the development of SAM Street into a, as mentioned in some of the previous posts, 'creative neighbourhood', that, in conjunction with the proposed university/ design school (as discussed in a previous post - see link above), would allow for a whole support network for related activities to develop in this area. Small galleries specializing in displaying anything from experimental jewellery to performance spaces for theatre, dance, video art or any other more experimental public presentations. Small stores and stands displaying anything from mint & chili honey to various types of 'darabil' (cinnamon). Shops selling hand-made paper and hand-bound books. Coffee-shops with galleries in their back – galleries with workshops in their back – workshops with stores in their back – book stores with 'speak-easys' in the back... The place should include stores that exist only for a weekend, and shops which become permanent landmarks in their own right (think Collette in Paris, Rough Trade in London, or the Strand Book Store in New York). A place where new ideas can be tested, old ideas wilfully ignored, mediocre concepts improved, poor conceptions failed, and great endeavours expanded. SAM Street should be allowed to evolve into a real, multi-functional and inspirational, neighbourhood.


An illustration showing how an existing typology of 'alleyway' retail shops, located opposite the M&S store, could be appropriated and used as a template down East on some of the demolished plots adjacent to SAM Street in Old Salmiya...


Why not begin here with the, often talked about but seldom explained, revitalization of Kuwait as a cultural, social as well as commercial hub? Developing something multi-faceted such as this would benefit all stratum and paradigms of, both commercial and cultural, life in Kuwait. As nation building goes it's a minute step, but these types of endeavours need to be evolved one step at a time. It's a project that needs to be given time to bloom and prosper - gradual maturation and transformation of the SAM Street neighbourhood where worthy idiosyncrasies are allowed to thrive – unique things, regardless of purpose or context, are allowed to flourish and materialize...


The proposal takes advantage of the, already a while back, demolished plots adjacent to SAM Street to expand the remit of the urban brief, creating support areas in character aligned with the creation of Kuwait's first 'Creative Neighbourhood'...

No comments: