The capital secretariat:A lot of activities; some suggestions [Archives:2003/669/Opinion]

September 18 2003

Undoubtedly the Capital Secretariat, the administrative organ of the Capital City of Sana'a has never seen a more functioning municipal government than the present Administration under the active and successful Mayor of Sana'a, Mr. Ahmed Al-Kuhlani. It is refreshing to see a really working government official leave his marks of achievement in just about every corner of the city. One would almost be safe to say that indeed accomplishments can be achieved these days, when everyone complains that it is just impossible to get things done, as many officials in positions of responsibility quicly like to excuse their lacking or poor performance. Perhaps these complaints are justified by a lack of initiative and innovative efforts that could lead to overcoming the obstacles that may be faced in a highly bureaucratic centralized structure, which Mr. Kuhlani has proven that it is not all that impregnable.
This observer must confess that what the eye beholds as one travels through the vast area that makes up the present territory that the Capital City occupies, is work, work and more work. This activity is not limited to infrastructure development, especially in such critical areas as municipal sanitation (both wastewater and garbage), but also encompasses areas like municipal parks, pavement of streets, town planning (including removal of random housing construction). These were all areas that were literally at a standstill for almost two decades.
The most commendable characteristic of all this hum-drum activity is that it is not accompanied by a lot of “see what we are doing” in the media channels. No, this is a genuine serious effort that shows itself on the ground.
There are so many things going on in the Capital City that it would take pages to describe all this activity, which this column would not be able to accommodate. Suffice it to say that most of the observations reveal positive strides in municipal development, while assuring that the City of Sana'a maintains as much of its unique aesthetic beauty as possible, while adhering to as much of the traditional concepts inherited from centuries of uniquely blending municipal development with the natural environment. It is noteworthy that much of the poor management of Sana'a's growth in prior decades occurred before Mr. Kuhlani took over the helms in the Capital Secretariat. Even still, the Mayor is trying to correct much of the poor adherence to proper zoning and the other traits of uncontrolled urban growth, which Sana'a went through. The City of Sana'a has grown from a semi rural urban center of some 50,000 in 1962 to a cosmopolitan metropolis of well over 1 million inhabitants at present and still rapidly growing.
Without seeming to try to downplay any of these positive developments, the observer would like to comment on certain aspects of this municipal development that deserve some looking into. For one thing the emphasis on environmental and ecological considerations need to be reviewed and reinforced. In this context, one would suggest that further growth be curtailed as much as possible for obvious natural resource considerations such as the rapid depletion of the water table in the Sana'a Water Basin, or the dangers of pollution that arise from the improper installation of individual localized septic facilities. Furthermore, the need for greater air and land space between large buildings and the need for adequate pedestrian thoroughfares is essential to give expanded breathing space and spans of vision. On the other hand, in the areas where there is vegetative activity such as planting of trees and shrubbery, the removal of the existing trees is both unwarranted and a waste of previously invested resources, not to mention a loss of well entrenched greenery that is so important for attracting rain clouds and for oxygen release, in an area of high altitude and low oxygen in the air (40% of what it is at sea level). It should be borne in mind that the cutting and removal of existing trees that are not really in anybody's way is far more expensive than planting new ones that may or may not survive, and would require costly care before they reach self-sustaining levels of growth.
The only unmistakably tasteless activity that really needs a clear change of attitude in the Capital Secretariat is the excessive commercial and even unsafe advertising appearing in the streets and roads in and around Sana'a. This column has raised this issue on several occasions in the past. Yet, while driving around the “60-Meters” Beltway around Sana'a, recently, this observer could not fail to notice the huge advertising billboards being erected that are monstrously rising in the middle divide of the road. The aesthetic natural beauty of the rocky hillocks and the other scenic landscape beauty along the road will surely be obliterated by such ugly advertising. One might learn from what other more advanced cities are applying as a policy on advertising. In Edinburgh, Scotland, a city endowed with a similar scenic environ like Sana'a, one will not find one billboard or plastered commercial advertising throughout the city. In fact, municipal laws prohibit any street advertising. Even building owners are not permitted to use their buildings for any advertising space. Buildings are only identified by a small two inch name of the building owner or the company name and the address number of the building. Thus, one only sees buildings surrounded by the natural aesthetic beauty, which only the Lord Al-Mighty can master. Accordingly, many people would like the Mayor of Sana'a to take note of this serious chronic defacement of the City of Sana'a, and the removal of much of it would really do a lot to enhance the beauty of all the fine work that is being undertaken now.