Spotlight on the Clean and Green Cities Program

According to UN-Habitat, the United Nations program dedicated to building a better urban future, clean, green, and beautiful public spaces are one of the most important elements of a livable city. High-quality public spaces that are not profit-based and that are accessible to all bring many benefits to a city: they enhance community cohesion, promote health and well-being, and allow cities to support a higher population density.

It was in order to bring these benefits to some of Afghanistan’s cities, many of which are still recovering from the effects of decades of conflict and population displacement, that UN-Habitat helped launch the Clean and Green Cities (CGC) program in March of 2017. Read on to learn more about the CGC program and about UN-Habitat.

 

What is the Clean and Green Cities program?

The CGC program is an urban initiative that is working to implement public space upgrades and improve certain municipal services in a dozen cities around Afghanistan, including Kabul. Over the last few decades, conflict, unregulated development, rapid population growth, and aging infrastructure and services have seriously compromised the livability of many of Afghanistan’s urban centers.

The CGC program aims to address this on a local scale by providing support for key “cleaning and greening” activities. These activities are carried out by local residents in cooperation with each city’s municipal government and nahias (a nahia is a municipal administrative sub-district: essentially, a neighborhood).

In addition to the refreshment and revitalization of public spaces, job creation and economic stimulus are important components of the CGC program. Through the funding it receives from a number of international supporters, including the EU, the CGC program creates jobs for more than 13,500 people. The program has a particular focus on making the jobs accessible to vulnerable populations, including returnees and the urban poor. UN-Habitat supports these efforts through technical assistance and expertise.

 

What CGC initiatives have taken place so far?

In Kabul, five major categories of cleaning and beautification activities have been identified by the community and the municipal government. These are: collecting solid waste from households, planting trees, sweeping streets, painting curbs, and cleaning roadside ditches. Under the umbrella of the CGC program, these activities will be carried out regularly, and in accordance with set standards of performance, through coordinated planning efforts from the municipality of Kabul and specially created nahia development committees.

More recently, in February 2018, the mayor of Kabul announced that seven public parks in the city would also be upgraded as part of the CGC program. This particular activity was inspired by the New Urban Agenda, the UN’s action blueprint for sustainable urban development that emphasizes the importance of safe, inclusive, and accessible green public spaces.

To help its parks conform to this vision, the municipality of Kabul has outlined a program of walkway upgrades within and around the park; grass and tree planting; well digging and implementation of an irrigation distribution system; electrical connection; upgrades to the boundary wall and installation of entrance gates; and the installation of benches throughout the park.

 

What is UN-Habitat?

An essential program of the United Nations, UN-Habitat works toward a better urban future. It aims to promote and develop human settlements that are socially and environmentally sustainable and to achieve adequate shelter for all global citizens. UN-Habitat has been working to fulfil this vision ever since it was mandated by the UN General Assembly in 1978.

Even at that time, urbanization issues relating to the uncontrolled growth of cities were already apparent. Since then, cities around the world have continued to experience unprecedented change. Today, the challenges—demographic, environmental, economic, social, and spatial—that the world’s urban areas are now facing are extreme. In view of the projection that 60 percent of the global population will be living in cities by the year 2030, it is clear that UN-Habitat’s work is more vital than ever before.

To guide its vision for well-planned, well-governed, and efficient cities and human settlements that offer all their residents adequate housing, infrastructure, employment opportunities, and basic services, UN-Habitat works with a medium-term strategy approach. Every six years, the organization develops a new strategic plan that provides continuity with the previous plan while facilitating an adaptable and effective response to emerging urban trends and offering opportunities for the incorporation of lessons learned from previous plans.

At present, UN-Habitat is working with a strategic plan that covers the years from 2014 to 2019. The seven focus areas of this plan are: urban legislation, land, and governance; urban planning and design; urban economy; the provision of basic services in urban areas; housing and slum upgrading; risk reduction and rehabilitation in urban areas; and research and capacity development. The first four areas are of particular importance in this iteration of the strategic plan, as they have been neglected in previous years in favor of other, higher-priority objectives.

What Is the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership?

With a history stretching back thousands of years and a landscape full of ancient monuments and cultural sites, Afghanistan truly is a dream destination for archaeologists. However, factors like challenging environmental conditions, transportation and accessibility issues, and security concerns also mean that the country isn’t the easiest place to conduct fieldwork.

To overcome these obstacles and continue the quest to explore Afghanistan’s treasure trove of cultural heritage, a team of resourceful, US-based archaeologists is employing a surprising new tool: satellites. Drawing on satellite imagery and other geospatial technologies, the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership is uncovering never-before-seen archaeological sites across Afghanistan and forging a new path for archaeological research and cultural heritage preservation monitoring in difficult-to-access regions. Read on to learn more about this exciting project.

 

What is the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership?

The Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership (AHMP) is a three-year project that aims to use imagery from satellites and other geospatial technologies to build a comprehensive database, known as a geographic information systems (GIS) database, of archaeological sites in Afghanistan. The AHMP is based at the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes, a department at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and is supported by grants from the US State Department and the US Embassy in Kabul. Other partners working on the project include the Afghan Institute of Archaeology in Kabul and Kabul Polytechnic University.

 

How did the AHMP get started?

The AHMP was first conceived by Dr. Gil Stein, a University of Chicago archaeologist and the director of the Oriental Institute. Concerned about the impact that years of conflict, development pressures, and environmental challenges could have on Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, Dr. Stein and other cultural heritage experts met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in 2014. Ghani, who holds a PhD in anthropology from Columbia University and served as the top anthropologist for the World Bank, called for a unified and detailed effort to discover, identify, and catalog cultural relics from the country’s past; in doing so, he emphasized how critical cultural heritage is to economic development and the creation of a strong national identity. The following year, Dr. Stein’s team received a grant from the State Department, along with access to US government satellite imagery that is typically a full order of magnitude more precise than most images that are publicly available.

 

What are the goals of the AHMP?

Some of the top priorities for the AHMP team include:

Comprehensive inventory and mapping efforts—The backbone of the AHMP project is the creation of a comprehensive database of archaeological sites in Afghanistan, both those that have already been identified and cataloged (specifically, those that are listed in the Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan, a 1982 publication serving as a primary resource for the AHMP project), and those that are previously unmapped. High-resolution geospatial datasets allow AHMP researchers to positively identify sites with exceptional accuracy, as well as offering important insights into how Afghanistan’s rapidly expanding cities and development projects are affecting areas of archaeological importance.

Monitoring site threats and destruction—Unfortunately, many archaeological sites in Afghanistan have already suffered as a result of conflict, looting, mining development, and urbanization. The AHMP aims to document and analyze the types and severity of destruction that have affected key archaeological sites, as well as examine areas where site preservation and protection efforts have proved effective. To accomplish these objectives, AHMP researchers work with time-based images, available through an online repository at the US State Department, to look at how sites have changed over time and to examine what risks might still be facing them.

Training Afghan researchers in the use of GIS technology—An important priority for the AHMP is providing on-the-ground training in geographic information systems (GIS) technology to Afghan archaeologists and cultural heritage specialists. To achieve this, scholars from the Oriental Institute worked with the GIS faculty at Kabul Polytechnic University, which has two GIS laboratories at its disposal. The goal of these training programs is to give archaeologists new tools to use in their work and teaching and to help introduce students in the urban planning and mining sectors to the importance of heritage preservation.

 

What discoveries have been made by the AHMP so far?

By late 2017, the AHMP had already made significant progress, with team members announcing that their work with satellite imagery had more than tripled the number of Afghan archaeological features that had previously been published. Some of the most exciting discoveries include the identification of 119 caravanserais—inns with courtyards—in the deserts of southern Afghanistan. Dated from the late 16th and early 17 centuries, these mudbrick buildings were important roadside stops for travelers along historic trade routes. The caravanserais are spaced roughly 20 kilometers from each other, which would have been about the distance that a large caravan could travel in a day.

Spotlight on 8 Amazing Afghan Craftsmen and Artisans

Over the last decade, the nonprofit, non-governmental organization Turquoise Mountain has been working tirelessly to revive and revitalize traditional Afghan arts and crafts. Today, thanks to initiatives like the Turquoise Mountain Institute—Afghanistan’s premier vocational training institute for arts and crafts—and extensive partnerships with international organizations, markets, and artists, a whole new generation of artists are breathing new life into Afghanistan’s unique crafts traditions, and transforming their own lives in the process. Read on to meet a few of the 450 artisans that Turquoise Mountain has worked with over the years.

 

 

  1. Javid Noori

The Noori family has been in the jewelry business since Javid’s father founded his first shop in the 1950s; it was here that Javid began to watch and learn his future craft. Although his family left Afghanistan during the conflict years, Javid returned in 2002 and established one of the country’s best-equipped jewelry workshops. Having quickly gained a reputation for working exclusively with Afghanistan’s finest gemstones, Javid saw his business thrive, leading to a host of opportunities, including a collaboration with renowned international jewelry designer Pippa Small.

Despite the scale of his success, Javid remains firmly committed to supporting and nurturing the next generation of Afghan jewelers. To this end, he teaches part time at the Turquoise Mountain Institute and nurtures promising emerging talents as apprentices in his workshop.

 

  1. Ahmad Shafiq

A 2011 graduate of the jewelry and gem-cutting school at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Ahmad Shafiq is the cofounder of Blue Diamond, a jewelry business that specializes in creating unique, modern pieces that are inspired by traditional Afghan designs. Together with his three fellow cofounders, Ahmad has collaborated with Hattie Rickards, a UK-based designer, on a contemporary jewelry collection that features indigenous stones and bold geometric patterns. He has also worked with jewelry designers Vicki Sarge and Zara Simon, and with prestigious international labels MADE and Bajalia. The Blue Diamond workshop is based in the old city of Kabul.

 

  1. Tamim Sahebzada

As a member of a family of well-known calligraphers, Tamim Sahebzada was just seven years old when he began learning the art of miniature painting. Today, at the age of 35, Tamim continues his family tradition of working to preserve the Behzad School of illumination work, a style of painting that originated in Persia in the late 15th century. In addition to teaching miniature painting, illumination, and design at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Tamim has exhibited his work locally and internationally to wide acclaim.

 

  1. Samira Kitman

Although just 25 years old, calligrapher Samira Kitman is already running one of the most successful arts enterprises in Afghanistan. A graduate of the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Samira established her own business, Muftah-e Honar, in 2012. Two years later, the company garnered a prestigious commission for Mecca’s five-star Anjum Hotel, which Samira completed along with 15 fellow calligraphy graduates from Turquoise Mountain. Since that time, Samira’s reputation for producing quality handmade artworks has grown significantly, enabling her to work on numerous bespoke commissions for public buildings, exhibitions, and private clients all around the world.

 

  1. Masoud Abdul Baqi

Born in Kabul in 1984, Masoud Abdul Baqi grew up outside Afghanistan but returned to the country at the age of 10. After completing high school, Masoud enrolled in the Turquoise Mountain Institute’s woodwork program. Today, he is a specialist in jali, a unique form of woodwork that features hundreds of different geometric patterns created by using delicate joints to hold slender slivers of wood together.

 

  1. Sayed Jan Nuristani

Also known as the “Land of Light,” the Nuristan region in the Hindu Kush Mountains of northeastern Afghanistan is home to a distinctive woodcarving tradition, the hallmarks of which are geometric and repetitive patterns made by cutting deep ridges and angles. It was in a Nuristan village, working alongside his father carving interiors for village homes, that Sayed Jan Nuristani learned his woodworking craft. Today, in addition to teaching at the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Sayed works alongside his son at his family business in Kabul.

 

  1. Samim Nasimy

Unlike many other artisans, Samim Nasimy is the first member of his family of distinguished engineers to receive vocational training in traditional crafts. As he explains, there is something very powerful about using one’s hands to transform raw natural material into a beautiful object. A 2012 graduate of the Turquoise Mountain Institute, Samim teaches pottery and helps to run Afghan Traditional Pottery, an independent Kabul-based business.

 

  1. Zahir Shah Amin

Born in Mazar-e-Sharif in 1988, Zahir Shah Amin is the son of one of the most renowned tile-makers in Afghanistan. Zahir has been with the Turquoise Mountain Institute since 2007, when he worked in its tile-making program. Today, Zahir is the program’s head teacher. In addition, he directs his own business and has received tile commissions for a number of prestigious projects, including an exhibition at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha and the new façade of the National Museum of Afghanistan.