Edited by Kris Bezdecny and Kevin Archer
Chapter 10: Mega-urban developments on the Arabian Peninsula for a post-oil future
According to the State of Arab Cities Report by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) declared in 2012, the Gulf Cooperation Countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) are the most urbanized countries in the world, several of which function as city-states. In this report, the UN asserts that as a result of decreasing oil reserves and the increasing cost of energy, water and housing, these countries are facing problems such as lack of economic diversification, absorption of nationals into the private-sector labor force, affordable housing, and environmental sustainability, which called for strategic actions to advance their basis in infrastructure, health and education. This resulted in an intense diversification of their economic bases through manufacturing, service, tourism and knowledge-based industries. Accordingly, highly ambitious mega-urban projects are underway to promote and support the economic shift in most of these countries. In this study, we question how mega-urban projects in these oil-rich countries respond to the problems of urban life and play a role in post-oil future of their cities. We focus on three mega-city projects under construction in the Arabian Peninsula: Silk City in Kuwait, Masdar City in Abu Dhabi and King Abdullah Economic City close to Jeddah, all of which are intended to function as multi-purpose urban developments offering a variety of activities for local and foreign investors, such as sports, culture, media, education, accommodation, public transportation, recreation and health. What is common in these projects is their claim to become mega-scale flagship developments with global importance and global connectivity while creating a long-term economic, environmental and social sustainability for a post-oil future. Departing from this perspective, our aim is to understand, through a comparative perspective, why such visions were shaped for these developments, evaluate how their intended vision coincides with their planning strategies, and assess their specific technological infrastructure, design tools and material selection both in urban and building scale in relation to the overall project visions. We follow a qualitative case study research methodology based on second-hand information gathered from designer and developer websites, news and agency reports, articles as well as urban development plans highlighted by city authorities. We expect that our findings will support the presence of an economic intra-regional urban competition to attract foreign capital in the Arabian Peninsula and use of sustainability as a cutting-edge branding strategy to become more visible in the global arena.
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