Urban Revitalization in Middle East Cities

I was recently asked to write a piece for Meeting of the Minds on the above topic…full article here, excerpts below.

What should a revitalization plan for a Middle East city look like? It should address the challenge of introducing walkability and effective public transport into existing urban cores, especially since most cities have been developed in the era of cheap oil and fascination with the motor car. This will require addressing both the land use mix and the transport network (e.g. road width, availability of shaded pedestrian walkways, integration of bus lanes and potentially rail). Providing accessible and functional public open spaces is another related challenge which could be a primary goal for revitalization projects. Of course, the spatial dimension will require a strong policy framework to assist in changing norms and behaviours, and generating finance for projects.

Large revitalization projects would also be an opportunity to address broad challenges such as city resilience. Whether it is adapting to climate change (e.g. sea level rise) or promoting a collective social identity, there are many fundamental topics to the long-term prosperity of a city which have been side-stepped by the focus on building new. This cannot go on forever. Creating communities where both citizens and expats of various income levels can live and work is possible, as was the case fifty years ago, in many Gulf cities.

What is stopping this revitalization from happening? For the larger projects, there are the political difficulties of re-appropriating land from private owners and negotiating land-use changes. The logistical challenges of construction in an existing area, particularly an existing busy downtown area, are also a barrier and can lead to theoretically feasible projects becoming “too difficult”. The biggest drawback is probably the availability of cheap, accessible land for new development.

It’s a welcomed change to be discussing regeneration/revitalization instead of focusing purely on new build.  It’s also a sign of the development of our cities and our thinking around them.  Looking forward to more discussions on this topic; there have already been some thought-provoking comments on the article. Please do share your thoughts.

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