City Parks: A General Overview [Archives:1998/25/Focus]

June 22 1998

This is an OPINION page.
Every week, a different intellectual writes a FOCUS on a pertinent issue!
Ali Moqbil Al-Jahmi, M.Sc City Planning Eng.
Director of Parks and Venues,
Ministry of Construction, Housing, & Urban Planning
General Situation
Public parks, gardens and green patches are regarded as the lungs through which a city breathes, no matter where you are in the world. In addition to purifying the air and acting as windbreaks against sandstorms, parks and green spaces act as places of recreation for the city inhabitants.

Unfortunately, Yemeni towns and cities do not have enough public parks to keep up with the rapid growth of the population. Not only that, but also some of the existing parks are being encroached upon or even entirely taken over by the horizontal expansion of urban dwellings, even though they are designated as public areas by government urban planners.
However, huge efforts are being made to preserve public gardens and parks. The Ministry of Construction, Housing and Urban Planning (MCHUP) compensates those people in whose private property part of a public park may lie. After an area is designated as a public space, the MCHUP erects a fence around it to protect it from any would-be usurpers and private developers. This also blocks any ‘former’ owners who seek to have access to ‘their’ land after they get frustrated with long compensation procedures.
Water Problem
The most urgent problem facing the successful maintaining of public parks is water shortage. Since there is an acute lack of water to meet the population’s demands, the irrigation needs of gardens and parks take second or even third place on the ladder of priorities.
Several seminars were held to address the issue of water shortage, especially in major cities such as Sanaa and Taiz. Recommendations were made to rationalize the use of water and put an end to the haphazard drilling of wells to avoid the serious depletion of underground aquifers. But not much has been achieved in this regard yet.
Moreover, annual budgetary allocations give more emphasis to issues such as the economy, health and social affairs than to urban planning and park preservation.
Despite all these problems, many public parks are flourishing and providing a great service to the local population. It is the result of cooperation between the MCHUP and the Sanaa municipality.
Means of Irrigation
There are no permanent and reliable irrigation networks for public parks or even shrubs planted in street islands. Irrigation relies on the water wells drilled by the MCHUP in some of these parks.
The government and municipalities have reverted to the use of tank cars are to deliver water for irrigation, especially in dry seasons. The experience has been that this has been a totally inadequate method.
Areas designated as public parks are usually ‘Waqf’ (endowments) lands run by the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Guidance for the benefit of the public. Other areas may actually be owned by the state or may even be private property whose owners are compensated. Evaluating and giving compensations, however, is not an easy matter.
Areas & Numbers
In theory, every neighborhood in Yemen should really have a public space to be made into a garden or a green patch. Proper urban planning stipulates that every 5,000 residents should be served by at least one public park.
In reality, the situation is quite different. Although there is no great difference between the actual number of public spaces in major towns and cities and the numbers stipulated by urban planners, much of the open space can hardly be called parks. In Sanaa City, for example, it is hard to believe there actually are more than 216 public parks and gardens. But don’t yet think of taking your family on a picnic to these places.
Public Awareness
Generally speaking, Yemeni people deal with public gardens in a very civilized way. This does not mean, however, that there are no acts of vandalism by some of the people who visit these places, especially by children, teenagers and shepherds who bring their sheep to graze in public parks! They just do not fully comprehend the importance of having green space, trees and shrubs and the efforts and resources that went into planting and growing them.
This, of course, is a transitional problem. Rural Yemenis have not yet taken on city behavior in the full sense. That is why you can see herds of sheep, goats, etc. on our streets.
Another problem is garbage. People living near the Dhahr Himyar park, for instance, have broken the fence in several places to be able to go in and throw their garbage in the park. Not only that, they also took away the doors, floor tiles and fixtures from the public toilets.
Games & Playgrounds
Park games are classified according to the children’s age and maturity. Some of these games are already available in parks in major cities in Yemen, but some of them have become old now and in need of repair or replacement, altogether. There is no real regular maintenance work done to these slides, swings, sea-saws, etc.
However, something is better than nothing. Many children do go to these playgrounds and enjoy themselves. This is especially true during the summer months.
The trend now is to invite the private sector to invest in public parks and gardens. Successful and well-organized investments, however, should be based on sound economic and technical studies. The purpose and use of the park must not change so that the place does not lose its original recreational function – i.e., to serve as a resort to the general public.
Therefore, investment in such an area must be well controlled and regulated so that it does not turn into a disguised usurping of public places. And, the limited experience has shown that this is a viable investment.
Plans are being made in coordination with the relevant official bodies to designate new areas as public gardens, parks or natural reserve parks and sanctuaries.
The Jabal Bura’ area, for example, has all the necessary factors and ingredients to become a national park. Many species of rare plants and animals can be found in Jabal Bura’ such tigers, etc. Another area is Socotra.
But the plans are still in need of extensive studies for finalization and implementation.