March 2 2010 | Bernadette Baird-Zars
One of Aleppo’s main squares is in for a major overhaul. According to two Arabic-language news sites* and word of mouth, the current mayor, Moeen Chibli, has stated that work will begin immediately, ostensibly to “discover the pathway of the river Qweik.*”
But it seems more complicated than a mere daylighting of an urban stream – there are plans for tunnels, flyovers, and (word of mouth) pedestrian bridges.
Granted, Sahet Saadullah al-Jabri does sit fair and square in the middle of the main east-west artery — surely intended as a ‘sanitary curtain’ at some point–, and effectively serves as a giant city-scale speedbump for vehicular mobility between the older and poorer eastern sides of town and the wealthier west.
No minibuses cross the line, so for almost every east-west trip in the central part of the city, you have to get out and walk across the square. So yes, the traffic jams are extensive, far beyond what’s needed to facilitate a lively pedestrian environment, and deserve public monies, thought and time. But flyovers and tunnels are world-over proven to:
A)Not alleviate traffic crowding as demand swiftly re-routes to meet supply. Re-routing, traffic calming, and emphasizing attractive group transit options have track records as much more effective (and inexpensive!) at ‘solving’ traffic, and
B)Entail significant undesirable negative side effects on their surroundings – in this case, what is one of the most frequented pedestrian squares in the city.
Like the traffic, the design and usage of the square also deserves thought and resources. Most times it feels like a hectic pedestrian street, but hemmed in on all sides by three lanes of fast-moving traffic. While the surrounding streets are notably some of the most jaywalker-friendly in the world (in my experience as an obsessive jaywalker, and confirmed as ‘safe-feeling’ by several locals just now), the current configuration does not prioritize pedestrians in the least. As there are no trees, during the summers the stone pavings can be blisteringly hot (especially with thin-soles), and when it rains, it seems like a horizontal waterfall.
All this said, Sahet Saadullah is an active and well-used area, crossed by hundreds and thousands of Aleppians a day, and, despite its many uninviting elements, is frequented by movie-watchers in the summer, political rallies (frequently), and, if there were protests, I imagine this is where they would be. It is also one of the few points of reference almost universally used by every social class – a middle ground in which to meet, or drop off a letter, or direct a stranger. I’m not sure how I would change it (suggestions welcome!), but the idea of this rare shared space being overshadowed by a flyover or two rubs me the wrong way.
The Qweik uncovered – 1899
*From http://www.syria-news.com and http://www.dp-news.com