Urban Villages of Muscat
The term “Urban Village” came to prominence with deeper knowledge of the importance of community level human interaction within in industrialised city in the 1950s.
The three key features that make up an Urban Village are:
· Reduced car reliance and promote cycling, walking and transit use
· Provision of a high level of self-containment (people working, recreating and living in the same area)
· Strong community institutions and interaction
Urbanisation Oman was very rapid which resulted in the laying of six lane express ways to improve road connectivity between major cities. Muscat city has grown from discrete isolated settlements to a compact, dense urban metropolitan region. In this process old oasis settlements got absorbed within the city sprawl. These pockets of traditional villages continue to exist within the urban fabric of Oman and are fully integrated with its urban network. The roads in these areas are narrow with some lanes only wide enough for people to walk or livestock to carry goods. Some of these notable villages can be found in Ghala, Ruwi and Old Muscat.
The locals of these settlement have formed very close bonds within the community and the neighborhood. The government only had to provide some additional infrastructure improvements like bringing piped water, electrification including streetlights and paving of the main roads due to which the settlement was maintained in its organic form and people continued to own and live in their ancestral properties. Agriculture and animal husbandry continue to be a dominant activity in most of these neighborhoods, however there is limited involvement in these activities from the younger generation who look forward to white-collar jobs in the city.
These old settlements exhibit the characteristics of an Urban Village although it was created without any interference.
The architecture in these settlements would generally date back to 200 years or more and the buildings are mostly built of sun-dried adobe blocks and other locally sourced material. The houses were built around an oasis with date plantation with an irrigation system called the Aflaj which is narrow channels of water meandering through the houses and farms. Today the Aflaj is not relied upon for household purpose because of improved piped water connection from the city.
Due to increasing number of family members and the demand for “concrete houses”, many of the traditional buildings are making way for modern houses. Owing to lack of ease of travel and congested neighborhood, majority of these newer houses are built outside the traditional settlement which have indirectly led to the preserving of the old built fabric.
The concerned ministry and public figures ensure the needs of the community are met and utilities are maintained. They also organise public events such as National Day, Prophet’s Birthday which engages the public including the youth in the community to foster a strong sense of togetherness.
With increased awareness of the concept of Urban Villages and an attempt to preserve the identity of the region, these settlements hope to retain its prominence in the city.
by Shobitha Jacob