Jun 09 2009

Qatarization – a Genius Idea

by at 2:47 pm under Uncategorized

Qatar is an interesting country to consider through Jane Jacobs’ lens because it epitomizes a nation whose capital city was born and rebuilt through innovation – but Doha’s vibrancy spun off of its colonial past. In some ways, Doha does fly in the face of some of Jacobs’ arguments, but the city’s constant reinvention and innovation follow Jacobs’ sequencing to create a successful city. I think Jacobs would be a big fan of Doha.

Doha grew in episodes, one of Jacobs’ characteristics of cities. Most historical accounts describe it as an insignificant village until it was identified as the capital. Further growth came when the British made it their administrative center in 1916. While this colonialist action might suggest false growth (Jacobs reminds us the people themselves have to want it) Doha may be an exception to the author’s arguments. Rather than fail in the long term, Doha’s colonial past helped build ports and a fishing industry that remains to this day.

Sketch of Doha fort, 1915

Sketch of Doha fort, 1915

Doha is experiencing a growth explosion and it is easy to assume the city has been pushed into modernization. Yet this ignores the more long-view historical accounts described above. Recent construction booms could then be considered one of Doha’s episodic spurts, not just a rush to modernize without the will of the people.

As Doha diversified, it increased the number of jobs available. The emerging energy and natural gas sector served the city alongside fishing. As construction exploded, even more jobs were created. However, foreign workers followed many of these jobs into the country, marginalizing some Qataris from their nation’s growth and opportunities. Still, the Qataris seek to mitigate this by requiring foreign firms to pair with local partners. This keeps some of the decision making in Qatari hands, which Jacobs would agree is necessary.

Doha in the 1960s

Doha in the 1960s

Jacobs would be interested in Doha’s future. Though the city has diverse industries, they’re arguably finite. At some point, Doha will be built to capacity and natural gas eventually may be tapped. What then? Fortunately, Doha seems to recognize these problems. There is a Qatarization movement afoot that, if successful, will address several disadvantages.

Qatarization is a plan to educate and train Qataris for jobs in the nation’s industries. This is critically important because, despite the influx of foreign workers, Qatar won’t have to depend on foreigners for its long-term success. By starting Qataris in entry-level positions, the nation is expecting its workforce to grow and mature – hopefully gaining the coping skills we talked about in Monday’s class. Instead of an infrastructure that undermines Qataris, the nation is embracing its past and its recent growth.

Qatarization banner

Qatarization banner

The plan also takes social growth into account by making it a priority to employ and train more women, which is gratifying. The plan also makes it clear that foreign workers won’t necessarily be expelled from the workforce, but will have to work in line with Qatar’s national vision. This no-nonsense language leaves no doubt that Qatar is in control of its future.

Yet nothing mentioned so far addresses finite resources. Still, I believe Qatarization does so tacitly. By training a national workforce, the employees will have a direct stake in Qatar’s future, unlike foreign workers who could choose to cut and run if the construction or energy industries plummet. There is more incentive for Qataris to continue to innovate and find ways to keep their industries flexible to changes. Qatarization’s slogan, “Catch the Spirit,” capitalizes on this while following Jacobs’ belief that local populations have to want change for it to happen successfully. Further, Qatar has built up Education City just outside of Doha where further research is ongoing and the next generation of scholars is considering their country’s future.

Training the next generation of workers and scholars

Training the next generation of workers and scholars

So let’s run down the checklist of Jacobs’ characteristics of cities and development – dense, versatile, flexible, growth in episodes. Doha makes the grade in all. The late Jacobs like would argue that Doha is the successful city-region it is today because it followed the proper sequencing, developed over time and never stopped innovating.

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