Sustainable urban development expected to improve quality of life

Urban reforms


Saudi Gazette report

SAUDI ARABIA has become one of the fastest urbanizing nations in the world as the rate of urbanization in the country rose by 33 percent between 1970 and 2010, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. The number of cities in the country rose from 58 in 1970 to 285 in 2015.

"We have a strategic plan to achieve sustainable and balanced urban development to improve the quality of life and deepen humanitarian dimensions in all cities and townships," the statement said.

The strategy includes setting out rules and standards for urban development and establishment of smart cities in line with global best practices. "It aims to increase the level of people's satisfaction and promote fair competition between cities," the statement added.

Another objective is to enhance efficiency of urban administration. "We will also work to reduce the negative impact of development on environment, attract domestic and international investment, create job opportunities and raise prosperity indicators," the ministry said.

The new strategy comes in line with the National Transformation Program 2020 and Vision 2030, said Hamad Al-Amr, the ministry's spokesman, while speaking to Al-Hayat Arabic daily.

"Saudi cities wanted to acquire scientific knowledge and apply global best practices to bring about urban transformation and a balanced development," Al-Amr said.

He said the ministry set out a comprehensive plan to achieve sustainable urban development by enacting necessary regulations, ensuring effective performance of institutions, making optimum use of municipal resources and forging partnership with private companies and NGOs.

The ministry has started implementing a number of programs to accelerate urban development and improve the quality and efficiency of municipal services and ensure effective management and protection of public land, the spokesman said.

"We want to cooperate with the UN Human Settlements Program (Habitat) to achieve a high standard of life for people living in our cities," he added.

The main reasons for fast urban development in the Kingdom are the abundance of financial resources, high population growth, rise in migration to cities from rural areas, and improvement in transportation and communication means.

Riyadh is the largest city in the Kingdom with a population of more than 6 million.

"People prefer cities not only as a place for living and work but also for establishing social contacts and making use of potential opportunities," Al-Amr said.

As part of the urbanization process, the government has established advanced communication and transport facilities for the people. It ensures greater participation of the private sector in applying smart management systems and enhancing the overall quality of life.

Al-Amr said the ministry's urban planning agency started revising its town plans to cope with international trends, bring about a qualitative improvement in urban development and make cities more attractive for life and work.

The ministry has launched a program titled "Future Saudi Cities.”

He hoped that the ministry's cooperation with UN Human Settlements would contribute to creating a better environment in Saudi cities, controlling haphazard construction works, and establishing partnership with relevant organizations to realize better urban development.

"We have selected 17 cities to apply global urban development standards. They include all major cities of the Kingdom, which will be transformed into sustainable cities after detailed studies on specific infrastructure needs as well as economic, social and cultural resources of each city," Al-Amr said.

"We will study both weak and strong points of each city and try to tackle the weak points in the first phase of the program. We’ll develop other cities and towns at a later stage," he added.