AN ADMIRABLE PROJECT

Kuwait 2018 | TOURISM | FOCUS: AL SHAHEED PARK

Al Shaheed Park is the symbol of the new Kuwait in terms of its architecture, urban impact, and, most interestingly, its social influence.

Al Shaheed Park reopened in April 2017 after a cosmetic facelift designed to transform it according to the Amir's wishes of not only a local gathering place, but also a blueprint and symbol of Kuwait's future.

The renovation, led by the Amiri Diwan, included replacing the fountain and amphitheater, landmarks of the old park, with a lake of 12,000cbm. The park, now 200,000sqm, is the largest urban park in Kuwait. In addition to a visitor center and new security team, the entire layout has been reorganized around several axes: revisiting the history of Kuwait in order to foster a sense of patriotism, encouraging local and national socialization to revitalize a sense of belonging and of debate, fostering cultural innovation and youth empowerment, and promoting ecology and the natural equilibrium found in Kuwait's nature.
The first two goals are deeply intertwined. Nationalism arises out of its historical construction, which in turn is geared toward the citizens' importance in the nation's history and a shared historical fate. One does not need to see the park to spot the first signs; the name itself means “the martyr,” and in the park stands both a sculpture and a museum honoring the victims of the 1990 Iraqi invasion. The museum, furthermore, allows for citizens to express their shared experience in the country through a book where individuals pen their memories. Ultimately, the museum and the overall park provide a space for a shared nationhood and natio-socialization, which was one of the goals of the park's renovation. In a larger historical context, the park sits on the “green belt,” the limit between the old and the new city, and incorporates the Al-Shaab gate, part of the old Kuwait wall. There stands a monument as well to celebrate the constitution's golden jubilee.
Cultural innovation and youth empowerment once again go hand in hand. The new generation of Kuwaiti citizens is, by necessity and due to socioeconomic changes, more inventive and entrepreneurial than the previous ones. Nonetheless, innovation is not as ingrained in Kuwaiti culture as in other similarly developed countries, which explains why encouraging innovation is such an important part of the 2035 Development plan. For this, the park management, led by the Lothan Youth Achievement Center (LOYAC), a non-profit organization, holds many cultural and sports events targeting the youth community. It held the Microsoft's Imagine Cup 2017 in Kuwait, a technology competition helping students train in entrepreneurial and development skills. In addition to adding jogging and bicycle lanes during the parks renovations, there are plans to build a sports field just south of the park.
The last objective, to educate citizens about ecology, is also an ambitious one, but designers were up to the challenge. Another museum presents visitors with information on local birds' migration and the effects of pollution, amongst other topics. Part of the park recreates Kuwait's natural landscape, including a dune, an oasis, local plant species, and structures blended with the landscape. With its own water source, the social space aims at promoting sustainability and sensitizing the youth to the perils that loom over Kuwait if the long-term environmental and ecological trends are not reversed.
The park aims to become the main cultural and social platform in Kuwait. All these goals share the common aim to change the very nature of Kuwait: citizenship, social relations, view of self, innovation and arts for future generations, and ecology. Unsurprisingly, a great deal of these can be found in the 2035 Development plan, and both reflect the Amir's long-term view for Kuwait. This park is much more than a local project: it is a reflection of what is to come for the nation.