Global Vision Awards 2007
The ancient desert city of Shibam, Yemen, with its towering mud-brick houses.
Clustered on a hillock in the middle of a floodplain in eastern Yemen, the 2,000-year-old city of Shibam—known as the Manhattan of the desert—contains hundreds of mud skyscrapers, some as high as eight stories and as old as 500 years. Until recently, these elegant buildings were crumbling due to flood damage and neglect. To counteract the city's rapid decline, the German development cooperative Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) joined with the Yemeni General Organization for the Preservation of Historic Cities to create an innovative grant program that engages the local community in preservation. Through this initiative, financial subsidies averaging 35 percent of the renovation costs are offered to Shibam residents willing to pay to restore their houses. So far, more than 50 percent of the city's residences have received subsidies; demand for traditional labor has quadrupled; and the gross local product of the greater Shibam area has increased by more than 7 percent annually. The project has proved so successful in inspiring residents to be active partners in restoration that it has become a model for other cities. In June, the Social Fund for Development of Yemen (which funded much of the Shibam project) began work in Zabid, a city on the UNESCO World Heritage list of endangered sites.
Our judge says: "They've gone beyond buildings to address pressing social issues. The result is a vibrant cityscape where locals are engaged in the process and have ownership of their work."—Luis Monreal
Visit the Global Vision Awards 2007 article.