Jun 09 2009

Oh, Doha: Where do we go from here?

by at 3:26 pm under Uncategorized

My boss has a bumper sticker on her bulletin board.  Mimicking the popular “I (heart) NY” logo, it declares “I (heart) Doha.”  While I know reading too much into a bumper sticker is silly – how many people actually believe everything they place on their bumper? – I think the significance in this instance is the international presence in Doha’s souvenir.  With a relatively short period of time, Doha, Qatar has completely made over its structure – from financial structure to social norms.  Tied to the outside in innumerable ways but grossly successful, I think Jane Jacobs would be baffled about the development strategies adopted by Qatar over the past decade and a half.  While Jane Jacobs would be critical of many of the ways Qatar developed Doha, I think we can find hope in identifying efforts to correct their hasty development – though perhaps too late in the game.


When it comes to development, Jacobs discusses the need for a sequence of events to occur in a necessary order:  generate markets, job availability, transplants, technology and capital.[i]  I would argue that Qatar did not so much generate their own sustainable market, but instead concentrated its efforts into Doha and tapped into resources they can offer the rest of the world (oil and natural gas).  In a quite opportunistic way, the nation recognized its ability to provide a precious resource and has built its economy heavily on those two factors.   While I am certainly not an expert on Qatar, the history that I understand is not unlike that of the story Jane Jacobs tells of Uruguay.  The once-prosperous land relied on the need for leather elsewhere for their continued growth.  Not building from the ground up in a sustainable and sequential manner, they lost their wealth when demand for their resource diminished due to circumstances beyond their control.[ii]  While demand for oil/natural gas will (unfortunately) not disappear in the near future, Qatar’s fate will waver should the market for these natural resources change.



 Much of Qatar remains concentrated in Doha – perhaps a city structure Jane Jacobs would applaud – with ties to the outside extend beyond the market for oil and gas.   While creating links to other entities is certainly a positive, development according to Jane Jacobs must not rely on the resources of other locations.  Perhaps the factor most unfortunate for the development of Doha (and, ultimately, Qatar), is that of an expatriate-laden labor force.  Echoing the forces that played on Jacobs’ Bardou “like a toy on a string,” I suggest that the expatriates in Doha that have driven it to such success may very well abandon the area once the resources (or the demand) are no longer there.  The lack of a focus on developing from within can be dangerous, as discussed throughout Jacobs’ work. 

 Object Localized, www.neuroinformatik.ruhr-uni-bochum.de

While Jacobs would criticize the sequence of development, I think that efforts are beginning to address those mal-timed projects.  For example, Qatarization[iv] is the name of a program specifically designed to incorporate more local Qataris into the workforce.  The program seeks to train both men and women in skills from maritime disciplines (men) to clerical expertise (women).  Yet, the program is again centered on building a workforce to support the market as it exists with their current level of oil production.  While building a local workforce is indeed a step toward recovering from the fallacies Jacobs would point out, building in such a way that perpetuates the path-dependency reduces the positives.  In that realm, perhaps efforts to branch out of the oil production – such as calls to create a “knowledge economy”[v] – are more sufficient attempts at a structural shift away from natural resources.   But, one must wonder, could a second-thought piece of the economic architecture really offset a massive decline in the global oil demand?  Probably not.


In applying the development of Doha and Jane Jacobs’ ideas to efforts to help other areas, I am again drawn to the idea that an organic effort must be driven by those with permanent ties to the land.  I, and likely Jane Jacobs, would not be so critical of Doha had the impetus for development come from Qataris themselves instead of outsiders.  Were I to develop a program in any region, the first line of action would be to understand what the area needs, what it can innovatively create to offer and how the people of that area envision the development going.  In the end, it seems again the running themes revolve around localization.  Perhaps some day, even bumper stickers will evolve a local flair – instead of adopting the oh-so-New York “I (heart)…”

[i] Jacobs, Jane.  Cities and the Wealth of Nations.  Vintage Books: New York (1984).  P 44.

[ii] Ibid 62

[iii] Ibid 34

[iv] http://www.qatarization.com.qa/Qatarization/Qatarization.nsf/en_Index?ReadForm

[v] http://www.itp.net/news/515085-qatar-sets-out-vision-for-knowledge-economy

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