His Highness the Aga Khan, has opened a new garden in Edmonton, Alberta in Canada in a move that continues his global greening initiative. The Garden was a gift to the University of Alberta from His Highness the Aga Khan, celebrating over 40 years of partnership between the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the University of Alberta.
The Aga Khan Garden is the 11th such park or garden developed by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) – an agency of Aga Khan Development Agency around the world. The creation of parks and gardens has been an important part of AKDN’s work particularly in several rapidly urbanising cities in the developing world, including Cairo, Egypt, Bamako, Mali, Kabul, Afghanistan and Delhi, India.
The Trust’s overall objective is the improvement of the quality of life, whether through the physical, social, cultural or economic revitalization of communities. It includes the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, the Aga Khan Music Initiative, the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada, the on-line resource Archnet.org and related programmes.
The Aga Khan Garden at @UAlberta's Botanic Garden is a beautiful gift to the people of Alberta. Everyone, from families who have been here for generations to recent immigrants, will find moments of peace, calm and reflection here. And even a little fun. #ableg #ualberta @akdn pic.twitter.com/gwFAbIOVG6
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) October 17, 2018
Construction of the Garden, which was recently completed, marked both the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation and the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee – 60 years since he became Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community.
The Aga Khan Garden brings to life the principle of pluralism, of which His Highness has been a life-long advocate. In the 4.8-hectare Mughal-inspired space, traditional Islamic landscape design takes on strikingly contemporary features. Garden elements from some of the world’s best Muslim architecture — including the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb in India – are interspersed with distinctively Canadian features, from Alberta’s wild rose beds to Canadian-quarried stonework.
Designed by landscape architect, Thomas Woltz of the world-renowned landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz in collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (an agency of the AKDN), the Garden provides a stunning example of Islamic landscape architecture — exploring the beauty and boundaries of vegetation, light, water, geometry, symmetry, adaptation and human scale. The serenity of nature is highlighted in each of the design elements including secluded forest paths, granite and limestone terraces, still pools that reflect the prairie sky and a waterfall that tumbles over textured stone.
It is expected that the addition of the Aga Khan Garden will more than double the number of annual visitors to the University of Alberta Botanic Garden (from 75,000 to 160,000), benefiting the local economy and adding significantly to the architectural and cultural landscape.
The Garden is one of numerous initiatives developed by His Highness in Canada for the benefit of all Canadians, including award-winning architectural landmarks such as the Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park in Toronto, the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat and Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, and the Ismaili Centres in Burnaby and Toronto.
AKTC is re known for creating such green spaces which have turned to be a major success not only in creating ecological clean zones but also luring in investment and trade in areas like tourism and recreation. In 2005, the creation of the 30-hectare (74-acre) USD $30 million Al-Azhar park, undertaken in the historic district of Cairo by the AKTC turned the tide for Cairo, one of the lowest ratios of green space to urban population in the world – an area the size of a footprint per inhabitant, according to one estimate.
Egypt’s capital, has a population of 17 million, and Al-Azhar Park therefore provides much-needed leisure and recreational space while functioning as a “green lung” in the heart of the city.
The project was designed as an agent for economic development, and has become a case study for creative solutions to a spectrum of challenges facing historic cities, including ecological rehabilitation all over the world.
The project included the excavation and extensive restoration of the 12th Century Ayyubid wall and the rehabilitation of important monuments and landmark buildings in the Historic City. It also encompassed an extensive social development programme, including apprenticeship arrangements, housing rehabilitation, micro-credit and health care facilities.
Al-Azhar Park is listed among the 60 of the World’s Great Places by Project for Public Spaces.
In East Africa, Aga Khan has expressed his desire to uplift the Nairobi City Park amid drawbacks. When the Aga Khan visited Kenya in April 2018, he had a further talk with President Uhuru Kenyatta on the park. They discussed enhancing the quality of life of Nairobi residents by increasing the green spaces in the city through a project to restore Nairobi City Park to its original glory as the “Green Jewel of Nairobi” as quickly as the enabling conditions and instruments to conclude this partnership can be achieved.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in 2012 between the Government of Kenya, the then Ministry of State for National Heritage and Culture, the City Council of Nairobi and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture to collaborate in the rehabilitation and restoration of the Nairobi City Park to international standards in terms of architecture, landscape and horticulture.
The primary objective of the collaboration and project was to rehabilitate and redevelop Nairobi’s City Park as major metropolitan park which would be recognised internationally for excellence in restoration, environmental practices and financial self-sustainability. The project was to create a prototype of urban park rehabilitation in Kenya and restore the City Park such that it complements and enhances the existing environmentally important areas and will become an attraction of great repute.
The agreement foresaw collaboration through environmental improvements, landscape architectural conservation and enhancement and creation of new facilities. These activities were meant to improve the quality of the site, making the environment safe for visitors to the City Park and provide the necessary infrastructures by respecting the natural and cultural heritage of the City Park and the people of Kenya.
However this project did not kick off as local politics continued to hamper its development. However,when Aga Khan met President Kenyatta, the project lifeline was rekindled.