MUSCAT Under the auspices of H.E. Thomas Schneider, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Sultanate of Oman and Eng. Nasser Bin Ali Al Hinai, Director General of Technical Affairs of Muscat Municipality, the exhibition “Public Spaces – Urban Identities in Muscat” was opened today morning at Bait Al Baranda Museum in Muttrah (Muscat). The exhibition is held in cooperation with the German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech). It displays different perspectives of planning public spaces and their identities in Muscat. Tourism research, community-based designs and architectural sketches on Muttrah from students and faculty members of GUtech and partially in cooperation with the Scientific College of Design are on display. The main topics of the exhibition are: “Observations and drawings of Muttrah”, “Community–Based Design in Muscat”, “WOW — Where Oman Walks” and “Mega-cruise tourism and its impacts on the local community in Souq Muttrah”.
The opening of the exhibition included talks on the development of urban spaces followed by a panel discussion with experts from the academia and the public sector in Oman. H.E. Thomas Schneider stressed in his welcome address, the importance of involving the local community in urban planning processes in order to create places that enhance networks within the community while respecting their everyday needs. Prof. Dr. Gustavo di Siqueira, Head of the Department of Urban Planning and Architectural Design (UPAD) at GUtech said that Muscat has witnessed a rapid urban development since the 1970, focusing on basic infrastructure and a car-oriented network. In their student project he focused on how the community perceives the walkability of certain areas and their suggestions for further improvements, e.g. in Al Khoud and Al Khuwair. Prof. Gazmend Kalemi, UPAD Department and his students display their sketches on Muttrah in the second part of the exhibition. “Drawing expresses our impressions and observations. The more you draw, the more you see and observe the tangible environment,” said Prof. Gazmend Kalemi, UPAD Department at GUtech, while adding that future architects need to have a basic knowledge about space and its aesthetics. Referring to the student and academic work on display, Malik Al Hinai, Director of Bait Al Baranda Museum said: “You created a special story that visitors will see in the coming week – urban spaces, walking spaces are on display for the community”.
During the discussion, the architect and urban planner Hilal Al Busaidi from Muscat Municipality said that he and his team have realized that the community is very willing to participate in public discussions. “We try to include the community in the planning and policy-making process,” he said. Shela Hussain and Mahmood Al Wahaibi from the Supreme Council of Town Planning, who are involved in the preparation of the Oman Vision 2040 and the Oman National Spatial Strategy Project, said that the use of ethnography is very important in exploring social values and personal experiences of space. “Especially in tourism, the charm of the country lies in authentic spaces,” said Mahmood Al Wahaibi. Referring to the walkability of spaces, one of the female GUtech UPAD students in the audience stressed that public spaces are rather male spaces and that it needs a general mind-shift. Currently, it is difficult and challenging for females to walk on their own in public. Dr. Manuela Gutberlet, academic researcher and PR Manager at GUtech showcases some of her ongoing academic research on the impacts of mega-cruise tourism on local life in Muttrah. In her talk she mentioned that in particular overcrowding, a marginalisation of the local well-established community and culture shock situations have triggered a silent resistance from the Omani business community and the residents. In addition, an increase in cheap imported souvenirs and social dumping of the labour force were observed. “The space along the corniche road and the main street in Souq Muttrah has developed into a ‘tourist bubble’, focusing on the needs of the mass tourist. My survey shows that most of the cruise tourists consume the place visually; they do not buy anything or very little in Souq Muttrah. Research conducted in other cruise destinations worldwide support these results. To increase the quality of life of the local community, she recommends to limit and control the number of cruise tourists arriving in Muttrah and to introduce a tourism management strategy.
The organizers of this special opening event wish that the workshop serves as a kick-off event for a continuous discussion on urban spaces and their identities, for the benefits of local communities in Oman.
The exhibition “Public Spaces – Urban Identities in Muscat” at Bait Al Baranda is open until 1st of May, from Saturday to Thursday between 9 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 6 pm.
(c) GUtech; Text and Photo: Dr. Manuela Gutberlet and Olivera Petrovic