Saudi Arabia Dumping Ground Becomes a Desert Oasis

© Aga Khan Award for Architecture / Arriyadh Development Authority. The restored Wadi Hanifah.

A public-health hazard has become "a place to breathe" in crowded Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where a decade-long restoration project has transformed a rubbish dump into a vast desert oasis.

The once fertile and scenic Wadi Hanifah suffered dramatically as the Saudi capital expanded rapidly. The city used the river valley "as a throughway for utility lines and a dumping ground for construction waste" as well as industrial effluent and "discharge from the city's overcapacity sewage treatment plant," according to an article last year in Canadian Architect magazine.

Full Of Debris
When the Arriyadh Development Authority began working to restore the valley, the first step was "removing 1.5 million cubic meters of debris ranging from construction waste to dead animals," according to the Mideast environmental news site Green Prophet.

© Aga Khan Award for Architecture / Arriyadh Development Authority. Natural wastewater treatment is incorporated into the new green space.

Some 35,000 indigenous trees, as well as native grasses, now provide a buffer against dangerous flash floods while shading a 70-kilometer stretch of the river that includes 43 kilometers of paths for walking and biking. To keep the area from becoming polluted once again, the project, spearheaded by the Canadian architecture and planning firm Moriyama & Teshima and the U.K. engineering firm Buro Happold, also included the creation of an artificial wetland system to naturally clean the wastewater that once almost destroyed the river.

New Open Space
The restoration, while impressive, does not solve all of Riyadh's environmental ills, of course. Critics have suggested that some of the $1.5 billion spent on the high-profile project might have been better used hooking up the third of city households that remain unconnected to mainline sewerage, the BBC reported. The news agency also noted the lack of public consultation on the project but painted an overall positive picture of its impact on local residents' lives.

"Riyadh has no open space," engineer Saud Al Ajmi told the BBC. "Wadi Hanifah has become a place to breathe."

Tags: Cities | Saudi Arabia | Urban Life | Urban Planning

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