Fahad bin Muhammad building
By Fahad Alswiliam
Al Malaz district is one of the 1950‘s project that transformed social life in Riyadh. During the 50‘s until 70‘s, many people moved out from old style mud-houses in the older neighborhoods of the city to live in the modern reinforced concrete houses of Al Malaz.
As a new neighborhood, services & streets of Al Malaz were very good and among these street lays the Al Mutanabi Street.
Al Mutanabi Street during 70's 80's
During the 70‘s & 80‘s, Al Mutanabi street, which was named after the famous 10th century classical Arabic poet, became a very vibrant place in Riyadh. Al Mutanabbi was considered as one of the most prestigious commercial streets in Riyadh and a very crowded one. It was a destination for ladies who were looking for high brand gowns, accessories and also for those who just wanted to enjoy a lovely evening walk.
Pedestrian Friendly Zone
The city‘s urban planners were looking for new ideas to make the street even more attractive, so they decided to make it a car-free-zone, where pedestrians can have the whole street for themselves with no cars. In the mid 1980‘s, this idea became a reality,
950m of the street was blocked and no more cars were allowed in, only pedestrians.
If people wanted to come to Al Mutanabi street, where did they park their cars?
Well, most people started parking their cars in front of private houses of the neighborhood near Al Mutanabi. What made things even worse, there was a female college just to the eastern part near the street that got quite crowded, especially during rush hours, so those who were living in houses between the college and Al Mutanabi St were having really hard time driving in and out from their homes.
The situation became unbearable for many residents, so they raised their concerns to the municipality of Riyadh. Situation was bad for both the residents and the visitors of Al Mutanabi and to solve the issue, the city decided to pay a faire market valuation of some houses in the neighborhood in order to compensate their owners and make parking lots out of their property. Several dozens of residents got compensated. Their bought up property was demolished to make new space for automobiles. While the remaining residents near the street were satisfied, visitors of Al Mutanabbi did not seem to want to go there anymore, especially when modern malls started opening in Riyadh such as "Al Akariah" so the street started slowly losing its glory.
It turned out, people didn’t really like the idea of walking long distance and wanted to enjoy the comfort of using their cars. The street remained as a pedestrian friendly zone until it was opened again for cars in 2009 but it is no longer a popular destination. Literacy and Intellectual community in Riyadh had proposed to make the street a centre for culture and and literature with bookstores, bookclubs, cinemas and cafés but their proposal didn’t get the approval.This story of a streets shows how urban planning could affect human behavior and decisions.I wonder how the situation of Al Mutanabbi will be in the coming few decades?
The street has some really beautiful vintage 60’s houses nearby that you might want to see. It’s a good place for an evening walk.
Location:Riyadh, Saudi Arabia