Jun 09 2009

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

by at 2:05 pm under Uncategorized

Vintage thriller movie aside, what would Jane Jacobs have to say about the situation in Qatar? Focusing on the various components of the network such as links through trade, export and import cycles, and diversification and reinvestment in the city region, I aim to divulge some pros and cons about the state of Qatar today. Specifically, I want to examine the architecture of the city, as well as the underlying balance between social capital and reliance on natural resources, which has primed the nation for a profitable leap into the networked economy.

What does the region look like in terms of cities and agglomeration effects?

Doha, the capital city, holds over 400,000 people, with 80% of the nation’s population residing in the city or in surrounding suburbs (Wikipedia). See the map below, which shows the denser areas around Doha (darkest red region.)

Population Density of Qatar

Population Density of Qatar

Only 200 miles away (by water) lies Dubai, a burgeoning major world city who is exchanging reliance on oil with increased tourism income. Qatar’s major export since WWII has been oil, but the model of neighbor Dubai’s transformation and the dense network of Doha itself may provide a high opportunity for diversification of exports as long as Doha focuses on import-replacement early on in its development. I will show later how it has already begun to do so.

What does the import and export cycle look like?

The growth of Qatar’s GDP has been very strong this decade, with oil and gas sharing 60% of the overall GDP in 2005. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Japan has been the biggest purchaser of Qatari exports with the U.S. close behind. The same source asserts that Qatar is interested in investing $120B dollars in the development of the energy and industrial sectors with $50B in roads, infrastructure development, housing, and health/medical projects over the next decade. So in other words, Qatar is trading with major players and building its own architecture of success for the people that share in the ownership of the land. This will also make Doha more accessible and attractive for both businesses and locals. However, as Jane Jacobs would say, diversification of exports is essential to maintain a strong and innovative culture as well as participation in development – through training and innovation – by the local culture.

What is the nation doing to increase opportunities

In an inventive move, Qatar is investing heavily in intellectual capital as prestigious American universities (including Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M, Cornell Medical, and good ol’ Georgetown University) have set up foreign campuses there. Inviting these democratically-operated national universities into the country increases the opportunity for information-sharing in an innovative way. It also injects capital into the region and increases the likelihood that other universities will take a look at the location.

Through this analysis of Qatar and its position in the world economy, I believe Jane Jacobs would say that the city-region of Doha as a major component of Qatar does much to agglomerate the best and brightest to the region as well as invite social capital to accumulate. The nearby city-region of Dubai and close export connection with Japan also serve to raise market feasibility. As a highly dense city-network region, it is not surprising that Qatar imports 90% of its food (U.S. Dept of Commerce). With a smaller agricultural market (requiring little institutional subsidies and drains on the economic gains of the city), Qatar can focus on building intellectual and technological capital for the global market. My interpretation of Jane Jacob’s response to Qatar? You’re in an excellent position for the future, just cut back on your oil habit!

"I heart oil" from redbubble.com

"I heart oil" from redbubble.com

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