Transforming urban cities into humane friendly environment

By Ghadeer Ghloum

KUWAIT: As the concrete jungles keep expanding, we often forget that cities are more than just structures of cement and glass. It is time to revitalize the idea of humanizing cities. To highlight the necessity of prioritizing genuine human experiences, Kuwait Times interviewed Ibtesam Al-Ali, Senior Environmental Health Specialist, who explores the potential of giving life to our concrete jungles by creating spaces where people thrive, connect, and truly live.

Ibtesam Al-Ali, Senior Environmental Health Specialist

Kuwait Times: What is the importance of urban humanization in urban life?

Al-Ali: Urban humanization is not a new concept, and it refers to transforming urban cities into humane and environmentally friendly cities. This concept is very important in changing the lives of people, which have become filled with challenges. The concept aims to keep up with the fast-paced life system, where the physical and mental health of individuals are the priority. Urban humanization seeks to rescue people from this life full of pressure in all its forms and provide them with a simpler life where they can easily practice their humanity.

For example, leaving your house in the morning to go to work and finding green spaces and trees filling the front of your house reduces the harsh temperatures in the summer, and older adults and people with special needs have all the facilities they need to meet their basic needs as soon as they leave their homes in easy ways. Hence, the concept of urban humanization has come to liberate people from the dominance of concrete buildings in the city and enhance their connection with nature and living things.

Kuwait Times: What are the challenges facing urban humanization?

Al-Ali: There are many challenges facing urban humanization, especially the issue of transforming existing urban cities into human-friendly cities, which is much harder than establishing a human-friendly city from scratch. There is a problem with the city’s infrastructure and how to rehabilitate it to align with the reconstruction of the city to become humane and environmentally friendly. There is also an issue with the dominance of cars and how to change people’s mindsets to understand the importance of transitioning to public transportation and less polluting modes of transportation, such as bicycles.

Furthermore, there is a challenge in providing spaces due to the nature of urban life, as the majority of spaces are allocated for constructing cement buildings. Due to the scarcity of vast lands, it is difficult to cultivate land and design green spaces. Moreover, weather conditions pose a challenge, especially in countries like Kuwait, where alternatives that require less water usage in agriculture, such as planting palm trees on roads, are not the optimal solution.

Kuwait Times: What are the key features of human-friendly places in cities?

Al-Ali: ‘Urban humanization’ is a term aimed at making cities more livable, enabling individuals to enjoy their lives, develop their potential, and pursue their intellectual, practical, and social lives rather than just being a place to reside. Achieving the concept of ‘urban humanization’ involves focusing on the human aspect in designing roads, parks, and public spaces. Humans find sufficient green spaces and areas for relaxation and leisure with ease of movement without obstacles, overcoming mobility challenges for people with disabilities. Additionally, consideration is given to the aesthetic and artistic aspects practiced in public places.

Kuwait Times: What is the role of urban planning in promoting urban humanization?

Al-Ali: From the perspective of urban planning, the quality of life begins with the residential neighborhood because it includes different segments of society and is where we spend most of our time. Through it, the concept of ‘urban humanization’ emerges. The concept of ‘quality of life’ has emerged to address the problems of modern cities worldwide. It was necessary to identify the main problem faced by residential neighborhoods within the city, which is often low population density or the distance of amenities from residences, forcing residents to rely on cars. This indicates the absence of urban humanization.

As a result, the neighborhood should be designed in a way that does not exceed a distance of 500–600 meters between any house and any facility within it. This allows residents to walk to amenities without needing a car. Therefore, when designing a neighborhood, urban designers should draw a circle where the farthest area is no more than 700 meters from residences. This leads to another concept, which is the individual’s consumption of space. The more space an individual consumes within the residential sector, the larger the neighborhood will be. This necessarily means that amenities will become further apart, population density will decrease, and residents will be forced to rely on cars.

Kuwait Times: What are the factors that contribute to achieving a balance between the natural and urban environments in cities?

Al-Ali: Urban humanization makes the city human-friendly and not merely a concrete jungle. All professionals should strive to enhance the human aspect of all their development projects and make the city more attractive to human life. Implementing urban humanization is a challenging task, especially in established cities that were designed primarily to serve modern transportation means, especially cars, without considering the presence of human beings as a fundamental element in planning and infrastructure.

The primary mode of transportation in cities has a significant impact on their shape, layout, population density, and the services provided, in addition to the infrastructure. Achieving a balance between the natural and urban environments requires sustainable urban planning, prioritizing green spaces, promoting walkability and public transportation, reducing pollution and waste, and preserving natural resources. It also involves incorporating nature into urban design through parks, green roofs, and urban agriculture, creating a harmonious coexistence between the built environment and the surrounding natural ecosystem.

Kuwait Times: What are the best global practices for achieving urban humanity and sustainability?

Al-Ali: The Human Cities project is one of the important projects in achieving urban humanity, in which 12 cities in the European Union participate under the name ‘City Challenges’. The experts in this project try to plan urban experiences to restore populations to their cities and make life in them more suitable for human living. This project adopts a number of values and principles, including sustainability, affinity, empathy, well-being, coexistence, aesthetics, solidarity, respect, and entertainment, among others.

A city that shows empathy and respect to its residents will meet their needs, from the smallest individual to the largest, from ordinary people to those with special needs. These cities nourish the human spirit and imagination through sensory experiences that resonate with human consciousness and the five senses. They give humans a place where they feel valued and humane without making them feel like dwarfs among giant cement buildings. A sustainable city provides the elements of sustainable living for humans and gives them the imagination to envision the activities and remarkable scenes around them.

Cities used to be just the product of urban planning, but now they are becoming the result of a partnership between architects, designers, artists, sociologists, intellectuals, and others, all working together to make the city more suitable for humans in a way that enriches their lives. Achieving urban humanity is financially and spatially costly, as it requires sacrificing a significant amount of space to create open spaces with breathing room where programs can be held throughout the year. These spaces may not be available in a specific area, so they require long-term planning to change the city.

For example, in the countries of the region, temperatures and humidity are generally high, which makes it impossible to enjoy the outdoors except for a short period of time during the year. Therefore, it is necessary to take into account weather conditions, operational and maintenance costs, and sustainability. Developmental projects in public spaces that aim to improve and humanize cities are not linked to a specific company or project but are a complete culture that starts from the geographical location to the quality of the people, their behaviors, and their cultures.

The post Transforming urban cities into humane friendly environment appeared first on Kuwait Times.

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