Time for Saudi citizens to get involved in urban planning

One of the major challenges that our country faces today is an alarming rise in population that could exceed 35 million by the year 2040. The demographic shapes of cities are in transition, with a growing working-age population, aging groups and people with special needs. It is critical at this stage to implement a comprehensive urban plan and devise efficient investment strategies that include infrastructure enhancement, government collaboration, affordable housing and facilities for seniors and people with special needs.

Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs Abdullatif Al-Asheikh this week stressed the need for the involvement of citizens in city planning. Indeed, such a move could prove effective in serving public needs. One such initiative was the Architecture Week sponsored by the Saudi National Creative Initiative (SNCI). Two-day workshops were conducted in Jeddah, Riyadh and Al-Khobar between 14 and 16 March.

Urban planning experts and architects engaged members of the public and private sectors to rethink innovative building and city planning projects. Participants discussed the challenges and characteristics of each city analyzing problems and defining spatial solutions needed to develop the proper landscape that can improve the health and welfare of communities.

The workshops addressed the challenges of accommodating 35 million more people in Saudi Arabia by 2040, and exchanged views on how to design sustainable parks and civic spaces and healthy and attractive neighborhoods. Those participating in the workshops shared their ideas for connecting homes in the city in ways that encourage more physical activity, such as walking and cycling. The feedback and observations generated by these workshops could provide valuable contributions that can help municipalities create vibrant urban neighborhoods.

There should be national campaigns to raise awareness about new standards for modern cities, and municipalities should involve citizens in the process of planning

Samar Fatany

The government has recently announced plans for massive housing projects at a cost of over SR 300 billion and has also initiated aggressive development projects nationwide. International companies and property developers have been encouraged to invest in the construction sector. The Saudi Public Pension Agency has given approval for the implementation of housing projects in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Work is currently underway to collect data about the Kingdom’s cities and their current development projects, their future progress and the role of municipalities. Let us hope that the updated research will help us avoid previous mistakes. It is crucial at this stage to apply international standards in urban planning. Public discontent has increased as a result of reckless planning and corruption within the municipalities.

The challenges

In the past officials failed to implement efficient urban planning and proper supporting infrastructure. The municipality, housing developers and construction companies did not coordinate their activities. Public utilities were neglected and there was a lack of proper building codes. As a result, many residential areas have turned into commercial centers, creating security risks and disturbing the harmony of neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, many high-rises, shopping malls, schools and mosques do not have enough parking space and are not strategically located. Likewise, there is no well-thought-out symmetry in the architecture, landscape design and color scheme that reflects the nation’s culture.

In Jeddah, the old city should not have been demolished. Instead a new one outside the walled city should have been built as in Toledo, Spain. Similarly in Riyadh and Al-Khobar, the old character should have been retained. City planners did not pay attention to the aesthetic nature of modern urban planning; building permits were issued for concrete buildings that did not blend well with the natural environment, tall glass buildings which require an enormous amount of air-conditioning to keep the indoors cool, and ugly facades which spoil the landscape.

Highways and roads were constructed without proper planning. An important artery within Riyadh, King Fahd road, should have been a six-lane highway instead of the existing three that are always congested leading to car rage among motorists daily. The same thing applies to the newly constructed streets in Al-Khobar. While in Jeddah, manholes, bad roads and U-turns have been the cause of many accidents and fatalities.

Meanwhile, it is equally important to address the environmental challenges of extreme heat and the scarcity of water. Potential applicable methods include site design, passive solar design, natural light and ventilation – all of which are currently nonexistent. There should also be concerted efforts to reduce the negative impacts of chemicals which are hazardous for human health and the environment.

There should be national campaigns to raise awareness about new standards for modern cities, and municipalities should involve citizens in the process of planning. It is time we develop well-planned integrated urban centers to enhance the quality of life for every citizen of this country.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on April 02, 2016.
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Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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