Odd lots of desert between the high-rises

31 Jan

Forget the malls and hotels; I wanted to get a sense of the texture of the city. I walked for miles as evening fell, and I’m here to say it’s a big quilt. There is very little urban planning here, beyond some main avenues.

That explains why there are no addresses. Mine literally is “PO BOX 129188, Behind ADIAA Tower, across Al Nasr street from the Cultural Foundation.” (Send me a postcard!)  Apart from the main avenues there are just warrens of unplanned, unnamed streets. When you get into a cab you don’t give an address, and you don’t even give a corner. You give a landmark:  a hotel, a mall, a hospital (there are a lot of hospitals here). The unnamed streets can hardly be called streets. Any given stretch of road goes about two blocks, and then you hit a little parking lot or something. Sidewalks are optional. Basically, streets are built around buildings that developers managed to build on this or that lot, not the other way around. The place is worse for pedestrians than Los Angeles.

A patchwork produces a lot of odd lots, irregular geometries left on the ground between buildings. Who owns them? Maybe no one. Many of them are patches of sandy ground, interstitial bits of the desert that once was all there was here.

In fact, these odd lots exist in other places. Gordon Matta Clark did a project where he bought a number of the ones in New York. They tended to be oblong in the extreme. The longest one was 355 feet, but it was only 2 feet 4 inches wide.  The widest one was a little over 6 feet.

Cabinet magazine, as you’d expect, did a beautiful project on them, described here. And the book is here.

Anyway, I made it home (no map, and then I saw my golfball on the horizon!) and my prize to myself was dinner at my local Indian restaurant. Now isn’t that the most festive cup of chai you ever saw?

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