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GUtech students envision public spaces in Muscat that encourage people to walk more

If neighbourhoods in the capital got a chance to rearrange public spaces as per popular choice, there would be more walkways, and Muscat would be transformed into a ‘walkable city’.

A unique exhibition by  students of German University of Technology’s Urban Planning and Architectural Design Department at Bait al Baranda is demonstrating this requirement and ways to meet it.

The exhibition, titled ‘Where Oman Walks’, showcases design proposals for walkable neighbourhoods within Muscat to serve as a blueprint for town planners and developers of new townships in the sultanate. It will conclude on January 25.

At the silent opening on January 19, Dr Gustavo De Sequeira, who heads GUtech’s Urban Planning and Architectural Design Department, revealed that the exhibition is dedicated to redesigning public spaces in Muscat’s residential neighbourhoods under the principles of creating walkable cities to encourage physical activity and turn neighbourhoods into more inclusive, economically resilient, socially cohesive and healthier places to live in.

“Our students conducted surveys in the community to find out the common problems – including cultural barriers – faced by people in public spaces, and they challenged the community to solve the problems. This led to devising solutions for different localities,” Dr Gustavo said, pointing out that development in Muscat has been rapid over the years, but without adequate thought for optimum use of public spaces.

As a follow-up of the various presentations made by different student batches concerning use of public spaces in different areas, the university hopes to impress upon town planners as well as Muscat Municipality to give due consideration to the findings, which could be helpful in future planning initiatives, he said.

Some of the students expressed confidence that their suggestions for the redesign of public space would be considered in due course and that future townships will be either devoid of the typical problems or will be planned keeping solutions in mind.

Usama al Maskari, a second year student, said, “My team and I were assigned an area in Al Ansab where we analysed the problems and found that the area lacks public spaces and amenities while walkways are not suitable for pedestrians as they are either damaged or lack proper lighting and shades which prevent people from walking.” If these problems are tackled, more people in the area would walk instead of using cars for small errands, he said.

Samir al Mawaleh, another student, also reiterated that most people said walkways in Mabelah were either not in a proper condition or devoid of shades.

So, his team suggested that all walkways address this problem for people to be able to walk, even in summers. As for parking along pavements, he said it wasn’t a major problem in the area as there weren’t too many cars parked in public spaces.

Areej al Sayeed, whose team worked on a project for Bausher,  said the surveys revealed that there was a need for gender segregation as women wanted separate areas to walk or to relax and did not prefer walking near mosques, which are frequented mostly by males. They also sought facilities like a shaded majlis to meet with family members.

“In Bausher,” she noted, “females are more keen on walking and socialising, compared to men. Even older women love to be outdoors but they need proper facilities like a majlis and shaded walkways.”

She also hoped that if walkways were provided everywhere, the attitude towards fitness would change, too and more people would be seen making increasing use of public spaces for fitness.

The students of GUtech were encouraged to come up with this project in order to encourage people in Muscat to walk more.

The solutions provided – and demonstrated in the models created by the students – show that people in Muscat will, indeed, walk more if these much-needed facilities are provided in every residential area. GUtech hopes to collaborate with decision making bodies in this regard in future