A Plead to the President Help Preserve Old Sanaa’s Heritage [Archives:1999/11/Focus]

March 15 1999

I am obliged to write this letter to bring to your attention the currently planned project of building a bridge in the center of Sana’a not far away from the gate of Bab Al-Yemen.
The destruction of the historic value and significance of Sana’a by construction of a traffic bypass bridge in Sana’a at al SHIRA’I square will be the serious disfigurement for the image not only of Sana’a but the whole of Yemen.
The construction of this bridge is said to solve the traffic problem. What traffic problem are they talking about? In fact the construction of this bridge will cause more traffic problems than it solves.
The city of Sana’a is registered as the World Heritage City which is being protected by the people, government and international community. In addition the city of Sana’a is considered one of the few remaining living historical cities in the world. Its historical, architectural value and significance is very important not only to the cultural heritage of Yemen but to the whole world. Therefore, we must stop the destruction of our country’s valuable asset which is the object of admiration and respect from every tourist who comes to visit Sana’a.
The construction of this bridge will immensely harm the cityscape of Sana’a. It is also in violation of the Vienna Convention of 1972 which states that “the city limit for historic areas is set at minimum distance of seven kilometers, and any alteration or change of land use should be beyond this distance”.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to meet the regional representative for UNESCO who was visiting Sana’a. He said that if construction of this bridge is implemented in the city center, it could bring about a change of status for Sana’a from a World Heritage City to an endangered city.
There is no severe traffic problem in this city nor any other Yemeni city when we compare ourselves to other countries. The present congestion problem actually is a very normal stage in urbanizing cities anywhere in the world. The 1988 traffic study of JICA summarized the major problem of traffic as being the “behavior of the driver not the number of vehicles or lack of sufficient road networks.”
In addition, the construction of this bridge is not acceptable to the social and behavior of the local residences, since it is an alien object which people never used in the past. The experience of this bridge will be unconventional and an obstacle to the circulation of traffic and destroy the fabric of the city escape while destroying the few trees which have been irrigated for the last thirty years. This in itself is major environmental destruction. We should save our trees.
The objectives toward sustainable cities as stated in the “Habitat Agenda” during the second world conference in Istanbul Turkey should be of an interest to us if we want to create a beautiful environment for Sana’a.
If we want to solve the anticipated traffic problems, we need to seek the assistance of a professional traffic expert to review the JICA 1988 study and follow their study. In this great city of Sana’a the focus should be for pedestrians, which have been ignored for a long time. It is almost impossible to walk in Sana’a and planning should give the priority for the millions who walk if we want our city to be a safe place to live.
During planning it is essential to think of the regional context of neighboring countries, to plan for future cities to compete for the tourist market and other things or to learn from the other cities to benefit from their past experiences.
Planning is for people. Therefore, we should identify why we are planning and for whom. It has to create a healthy and enjoyable place to live and work. It does not suffice to have only street layouts for the whole city of Sana’a. As residential areas, without understanding the social economic activities and what functions the city has now and what it will have in the future in the year 2030 and beyond.
The dream I have is that this city is to be one of the most beautiful places on the globe. Believe me, it is possible. The potential for it exists right now in our hands. What needs to be done will only take the will of the people concerned with the protection of all existing open spaces to be saved for use by future generation.
I want to take this opportunity to express my sincere admiration to the president for his dedication and hard work toward building this country to catch up with the rest of the world into the 21st century.