An alternative kind of park
A few weeks ago my husband and I went out for something to eat to a plaza in Riyadh called River Walk which is in an area I don’t know that well.
River Walk is a two story glass and metal, very modern, gleaming complex with a landscaped water feature running down the middle of it (hence the river reference). Most of the units are coffee shops and it’s a pleasant place to go and walk around in the cooler evenings and enjoy a coffee and a snack.
The strange thing about River Walk is that it’s built in-between two enormous piles of excavated earth – probably 30 meters high, both stretching over a kilometer in length and half a kilometer wide. They are huge mounds of dense compact earth and rubble, surrounded by sheer sides. You can get an idea of the size from the photos!
My husband and I initially thought it was a hill they had carved around to build the nearby residential area, but actually on closer inspection we think it is a HUGE pile of excavated earth dug up during the construction of the buildings around. The layers we saw included builder’s rubble, with bits of old concrete blocks, scraps of metal etc, so it’s definitely not a natural feature.
It is such a weird thing – and I can’t overstate the size of it on both sides of the newly built River Walk which makes the plaza look like a space ship that has landed on the moon! They’ve made a feature out of one of the enormous dirt piles by building a huge wide footpath around it, and another path through the middle of it all lit with pretty street lights…Definitely not something that would be an attraction or that would meet health and safety regulations elsewhere, but there were quite a few people out walking, and there were food trucks dotted around which leads me to think it is something of a go-to destination..
Looking it up on Google Maps the area doesn’t have a name – it’s just called ‘Off Road Area’. We did see a man offloading bikes from the back of his pick up which looked like they might be for hire, but I think they’re for riding around, rather than over the top!!
From reading the reviews on Google Maps people seem to like to go walking there, the reviews include: ‘Nice area to walk’, ‘A perfect place for walking and exercise’, ‘The walkway is very beautiful, spacious and elegant’… (not sure that’s quite how I would describe it!) so it is attracting people to go walking which is a positive!
I’m not really sure what to make of it, raises questions to me about public safety (would this be allowed anywhere else??) and it doesn’t seem like the natural setting for a glamorous, futuristic coffee plaza, but it’s interesting they’ve tried to make a feature out of it and to be fair, people seem to like it!
King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD)
A purpose-built financial district in Riyadh, rising high above the desert is nearing completion…It’s a huge area (1.6million square meters) with 59 purpose-built skyscrapers of different heights and designs which its intended will incorporate a mix of office, retail, dining options, residential, conference centers, theaters, a multiscreen cinema, a monorail, an elevated walkway and a central ground level landscaped walkway, all with fast access to the airport and the city centre by road and (soon-to-be) metro.
KAFD was announced in 2008 and phase one was scheduled to open in 2017 – however, it is such an ambitious project that even the first phase is still quite far from completion, as we discovered when we went for a walk around it recently.
A limited area of the urban wadi (a landscaped area that will link the entire site) is open to stroll around, and there was one cafe where we could grab a coffee, I know some offices are already open, and there are plans for others to move in very soon with fit-outs almost complete for offices from Saudi’s mega-projects and government departments. There are also almost daily announcements of international companies signaling their intent to headquarter in Riyadh, and there appears to be a push on to complete a range of cafe and dining options which will appeal to the soon-to-be office workers.
KAFD is a huge project that dominates the skyline in the north of the city – the size of some of the sky scrapers cannot be underestimated and they have all been designed to be architecturally striking.
The first phase is very nearly there, but I imagine it is still going to take some time before the whole area is the thriving, pulsating heartbeat it is planned to be… it’s a case of, watch this space!
And that’s it for this blog – short and sweet.
Hopefully some more adventuring in the next few weeks!
Until then, stay cool,