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Cheaper houses make random cities

6 Dec

Most buildings in Yemen do not get the final touches of urban style. People believe it is extravagant to spend money on materials to decorate the outward look of their houses.By: Malak ShaherPublished:06-12-2010
The first thing to be noticed by someone having a tour around the cities of Yemen is the unorganized and random style of the buildings. In fact, it is not only the random style of the buildings which disturbs the final look of the city, but also the urban planning of Yemeni cities.Unfortunately, the organization of buildings in Yemeni cities suffer from a severe deficiency of urban planning. People have been competing to buy cheaper plots of land which are not included in the designs of the General Authority for Urban Planning.In Sana’a there has been an increasing problem in terms of residential expansion. With the passage of the time and the rapid increase in population, new houses are eating away at the green lands surrounding Sana’a. Lands that are not included in the authority’s design of the city, according to a study by Mohammad Al-Toloo’ titled ‘Residential expansion in Yemen, Sana’a is an example.’

During the last 30 years, people from all Yemeni governorates have been flowing into Sana’a looking for work and opportunities. After the First Gulf War in the early 90s, Yemeni expatriates returned to their homeland in droves. The population, especially in Sana’a, rapidly increased. In fact, it has increased from 162,000 in 1977 to more than 1.7 million in 2010.

The study stated that Yemen’s population is increasing by 3.7 percent. In Sana’a, a mere 555 square kms, the population is increasing by 7.7 percent.

Nevertheless, the buildings in Sana’a do not cover the whole ground area of Sana’a, as there are some vacant spaces yet to be filled. The study claims that the area of Sana’a could support 5 million people, while the current population has not yet exceeded 2 million.

Since many of those looking for opportunities in Sana’a had very little money, they bought cheap plots of land in the suburbs surrounding the city. Many built cheap houses on the land with little, if any, planning approval. These suburbs had no public services and were not included in the plan of the city.

“This explains why people tend to go to further areas which are not planned yet. They simply prefer to go further and pay less money, than buying a land plot in a planed area inside the city of Sana’a with more expensive prices,” according to Al-Toloo’.

Sana’a threatening to absorb nearby village land

There is a common belief, especially among the poor, that there is no use in paying a lot more money for land in expensive planned areas.

“This is the only place I managed to get a house. It is very expensive to buy a house in the city center because the land there is very expensive,” said Mohammad Al-Ubaidi, a resident on Airport Street which is an hour from the city center.

For Al-Ubaidi, who used to live in a village near Sana’a, it is cheaper to have a house near his village which is also considered ‘in the city’. He said that he wanted a better opportunity for his children in the city.

In Sana’a, this is also the case for hundreds of thousands of people who came from surrounding villages and other governorates.

This has become a challenge for the government, as these randomly erected suburbs have spread widely, sometimes even absorbing villages near Sana’a. Eventually, these outlying areas and villages become part of Sana’a city, and should be provided with public services such as electricity and water.

Sometimes when a design for a new road is outlined, the location of the main road is already occupied by houses. Therefore, the government needs to pay money to compensate people whose houses are destroyed when the land becomes part of the road system. Many other unplanned houses have had to be knocked down to make way for planned urban development.

Buildings in Sana’a are stretching to the north and south, as Sana’a is surrounded by mountains on the east and west. These residential expansions are increasingly threatening the green plains in villages adjacent to Sana’a to the north and the south of the city.

Problems of current city planning

Sana’a city doesn’t only have unplanned buildings, but also some buildings that are included in the plan of the city, but are badly deteriorating due to old age. According to Toloo’, there are also 35 slums around the planned city of Sana’a, which were established by residents in a totally unplanned way.

“In my point of view, Sana’a city is not only suffering from an unplanned residential extension, but also from deteriorating houses inside the city, and slums around the city,” said Al-Toloo’.

Moreover, the houses are not numbered and often the only way to get to a place in these areas is by memorizing a well-known place or landmark that is nearby.

The buildings are not erected based on any style outlined by the Supreme Council for Urban Planning. In fact, they are built according to the design that pleases the owner of the house, which often is the cheapest design. This has resulted in houses with the most “common random unplanned design,” said Al-Toloo’.

The council has been negligent for years in not outlining the limits of residential expansion. In general, most of the plans for urban areas are made after the area is already full of unorganized buildings, the study said.

It was recommended that the Ministry of Labor and General Works should implement rules for erecting buildings and planning streets such that the final look of the city looks more developed.

Sana’a in 2005
Sana’a in 2020