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JustHere | December 6, 2016

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A search for Downtown Doha in Wakra’s Barwa

A search for Downtown Doha in Wakra’s Barwa

Rebecca Cain goes to Barwa village in search of the Doha of her childhood, and finds only fleeting shadows.

My earliest memories of Doha are of small streets, even smaller shops and very dusty windows. The old souk area, downtown Doha, was the hub of the city that came alive every evening and weekend. These old areas are now being demolished to make way for a number of new projects that will help Doha on its way to become a metropolis to rival many.

The businesses of those streets have now been relocated, but their liveliness seems to have fallen through the cracks of development.

I recently took a trip up to Barwa Village to chat with the traders who were part of the Doha of my childhood.

“Rayan, Al Sadd…all will close. So [there is] no point,” said one trader who stated he was looking for some stability after watching many small businesses close down.

The traders I spoke to in Barwa all said the process of relocation was fair. They were given six months to move and had a choice of location. They chose Barwa Village.

The low-income expatriates often do not have access to a car and therefore cannot go to Barwa, the very place that has many of the affordable shops for this bracket
No walk-ins

Barwa Village is in a grid-like formation with row upon rows of shops. Shops that follow the same regimented style.  Shops that could be brimming with customers, but the reality is that many are empty or remain closed despite the website stating: “Barwa Village was completed in 2010 and has rapidly reached high occupancy rates.”

It seems that many shop spaces (there are 918 retail units in total) are used for storage, as the traders are not receiving the trade they need to remain open. The rent is cheaper here than in the industrial area, and so far there has been no restriction on the trucks. This makes storage more convenient and affordable but affects those who trying to earn a living in neighboring shops.

     

[Photography: Rashid Keeppott]

Another Indian trader trader working in one of the many clothes and material shops spoke of what Barwa was like a few years ago saying that “[Some] small traders struggle….[they] close[d] after one year.”

Being witness to the growth of Doha over the past twenty years he said, “Business [is] dull compared to Doha.” Many are impacted by the lack of walk-in customers.

In a location where not all shops are open for business, it’s that much more difficult.  “…more shops, more people,” says a long time trader of materials, now in his mid-40s. The competition amongst the traders has gone.

People don’t wander around Barwa like they did in the city.  The low-income expatriates often do not have access to a car and therefore cannot go to Barwa, the very place that has many of the affordable shops for this bracket

The silver lining

Whilst the clutter and charm of the old shops is gone, it seems that the traders prefer this cleaner look. There is ample parking and the shop space was already setup for trade; they already have the shelving, AC, power; making the move less stressful.

One trader, originally from India, who has been in Doha for twenty years and in Barwa Village for nearly three, says, “ to go the mall is a one day picnic.” The reason businesses suffer here is because there is no advertisement, people don’t know what’s on offer, he feels.

The main draw for Barwa is Centre Point, but those customers rarely wander far from the stores within.

Yet, Barwa Village is full of possibility and opportunity. There are restaurants and small cafes serving traditional cuisne from India and Asia. There is the opportunity to walk around, the possibility of the lively atmosphere and consequently for the traders to do well. But, the reality seems dreary.

The traders are right, why would people drive out to Barwa when they have the convenience of the malls in the city?  The once vibrant downtown Doha was an organic atmosphere. How does one recreate that?

Rebecca has returned to Doha once more, having gone to school here in the mid ’90s. She now spends time marveling at the changes and reminiscing about old Doha.

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