Public Space in Kuwait: From User Behaviour to Policy-making

Additional Team Members - Asseel Al-Ragam and Sharifa Alshalfan

Kuwait’s population is expanding rapidly and accommodating this growth through sustainable urban development will be a challenge for the small emirate. This calls for a shift in current urbanisation patterns that are contributing to high levels of motorisation, public space neglect, physical inactivity and health and environmental problems. These negative externalities are coupled with unsustainable and profit-driven regeneration schemes that neglect the relationship between everyday behaviour and public space. Consequently, re-evaluating the relationship between urban growth and public space standards becomes vital. 

This applied policy-oriented research expands on the limited qualitative studies on public space in Kuwait and challenges state top-down design standards used in planning its residential neighbourhoods. It explores the impact that planning, design, and behavioural factors have on public space use. Building on the existing literature, it also adds a socio-spatial dimension to public space studies and contributes a qualitative policy-oriented approach that is environmentally sustainable and one that leads to healthier social and individual behaviour. The findings highlight that an overlap in responsibilities at state planning authorities and limited user-centred policies have hindered the successful use of public space in Kuwait. 

However, and as this investigation illustrates, public space improvement cannot be achieved with isolated measures. Design improvements to public space must also take into account the cultural and climatic impact of users’ social negotiations that take place in the public space of residential neighbourhoods in Kuwait. The aim is to explore the impact of qualitative methods of analysis in understanding public space and to use the collected data to generate evidence-based policies that could then be applied on a much larger scale to the sustainable urban development of Kuwait. Effective urban policies and management will promote the necessary change that will help create more vibrant communities. This research is part of a collaborative project between LSE Cities and Kuwait University researchers, funded and coordinated by the LSE Middle East Centre.