New urbanist in Iraq

Peter Swift, who has operated a New Urbanism-oriented transportation planning firm in Longmont, Colorado, is going to Iraq as director of town planning for a firm that will carry out large development efforts in the Kurdish northern section of the country. Swift has joined Mid Atlantic Enterprises as director of town planning and will work on four square miles of greenfield development in Dohuk, five schools in Erbil, and a master plan for Zakho.

He will be based in Erbil, which the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia describes as “one of the world’s oldest continually settled towns,” occupying “the site of the ancient Sumerian and Assyrian city of Urbillum (Arbela).” Erbil, one of the main towns in what has been known as the Kurdish Autonomous Region, had a population of 486,000 as of 1987.

“All my work will be mixed-use, walkable development based on Islamic urbanism and law,” said Swift, a town planner as well as a civil and traffic engineer. During an initial week-and-a-half trip to Iraq this summer, Swift met a number of regional ministers and their staff before agreeing to accept the job. “The fact that everyone I have spoken with is open and enthusiastic about walkable, mixed-use design and the use of vernacular architecture is very gratifying,” he said. “I have been studying Islamic codes (from about the late 8th century) and architecture to get a feel for cultural subtleties and function.”

“If the funding for Zakho comes through soon, [Washington, DC, architect] Dhiru Thadani and [Miami landscape architect] Douglas Duany have agreed to spend a couple of weeks with me getting the master plan kick-started,” he noted. Zakho is a Kurdish town near the border of Turkey. Swift said Mid Atlantic is currently producing about 100 apartments a month and has set out to “build things right.” He was approached about the job after being recommended by Dallas area homebuilder Bill Gietema, a friend of Mid Atlantic principal Tom Bricker.

“There are at least 40,000 homeless courtesy of Saddam’s brutal Anfal campaign and years of war with the Kurds,” Swift said. “The Kurds get 27 percent of all the oil revenue in the country in addition to UN and other funding sources. There is somewhere between $300 and $700 million available for new building and reconstruction. Saddam destroyed about 3,800 villages in addition to relocating Arabs into Kurdish towns.” If progress goes well, Swift predicted, “the first of these projects may be under construction early next year.” u