Jun 09 2009

Qatar: is there hope for a country building cities in the sand?

by at 3:35 pm under Uncategorized

As I child I made several trips to the beach to build sand castles. Those castles would always be swept away with the changing of the tide. As the water rose, my sand developments crumbled.

Sand Castle by JP Morgan

Sand Castle by JP Morgan

That said I’m familiar with the process of development and infrastructure as well as how plans can look really good at the beginning but fail for one reason or another. Plans, resources and motivation are necessary—you can’t create something from nothing. Everything has to come from some where, even dirt. Perhaps this is a good way to look at the creation of cities in Qatar.

Map of Quatar

Map of Qatar

Cities in Qatar, like its capital city Doha, were rebuilt and recreated by the fusion of innovation and a historical, colonial past. Qatar’s development is part of a long term plan that will develop the region by the year 2025. Billions have already been spent to re-enforce the infrastructure of Qatar to keep it from sinking into the sand and make it a beacon of Middle Eastern development.

Qatar's capital city of Doha, by Agency Spy

Qatar's capital city of Doha, by Agency Spy

The Qatar plan, coined “The Master Plan,” seeks to consolidate existing master plans (Education City, Pearl of the Gulf, Lusail Development, New Doha International Airport, Doha Port, etc) into one integrated blueprint for future development. The plan does not consider individual areas of the country but rather is developing through a national perspective. Each of the above areas of Qatar will focus on a specific purpose to benefit the country as a whole.

According Qatar’s Urban Planning and Development Authority (UPDA) website, there are several objectives that have been considered during the plan. Objectives include:
•    To significantly improve the capability of the UPDA and related authorities that will effectively improve development objectives, policies, and regulations at all planning levels.
•    To be better able to control, monitor, and assess development projects.
•    To better recognize future development opportunities early on and plan accordingly

Jane Jacobs would disagree with the creation of cities like those in Qatar in many ways—but also recognize positive aspects of the developmental approach. In her book, “Cities and the Wealth of Nations,” discusses distrust in imperialism. She states that in many ways imperialism has its own demise. Like foreign aide imperialism often has the best intentions but once the money goes away there is little to support the economy of the region or city. Qatar does have oil resources, and innovative sand resources. But most of its business has been transported from other cities in the area and foreign countries (as have a large percentage of its new residents).

For Jacobs, cities have several characteristics including density, intensity, versatility, flexibility, externalities, and explosive events. These characteristics can be found individually in the majority of cities, by Jacobs recognizes the more traits a city has the more sound its economic structure. Cities should also generate markets and enlarge networks for new imported goods, increase the diversity of jobs, transport work to non-urban areas to encourage city growth, use technology to increase production in rural areas, and thus grow their city capital.
The failure to follow these goals in the listed order could leave out several vital steps. She also makes an argument against imperialism—or a government’s top down approach to development. Imperialism is defined as the extension of a country’s influence through trade, diplomacy, etc. While there is no clear trend towards imperialism, Qatar seeks to dominate the region with centers of trade, transportation and tourism which some might see as an imperialistic approach to development. This is reflected in a comment from a government website:

The Master Plan of Qatar is a multi-disciplinary approach that will require cooperation and participation from the various authorities, municipalities, and local officials, an international team of consultants, in-house UPDA planners, all under the direction of H.E. the Emir. It is expected to be completed within the next three years.”

Jacobs would like certain things about cities like Doha. For example, Doha has been developed over time, and has experienced spurts of development from the colonial era and into modern times. Lusail, however is being created from the ground up as a real estate city, with little vibrancy of its own. This structure would most likely bother Jacobs. Lusail is definitely being planned from the top down.

The city of Lusail in Qatar has several new real estate developments.

The city of Lusail in Qatar has several new real estate developments.

There are successful innovative industries in Qatar as well. Several have to do with the re-use and re purposing of the massive amounts of sand in the country. Examples include robotics research facilities, and creating plaster sand building materials.

Qatar Sand Dunes

Qatar Sand Dunes

Translating this community into one that stimulates the economy will continue to present challenges. For example, the website Qatar Living.com is a vibrant online community which posts advertisements, classes, and cultural activities. One of Jacob’s other major arguments throughout her works is if are people have motivation their communities can be reborn and remain vibrant—maybe even out of the sand.

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.