Jun 10 2009

Qatar You Doing?

by at 6:48 pm under Uncategorized

Oil, natural gas, and lots of sand—these are the things one may think of when Qatar comes to mind.  But what else does it have to offer? Is it at risk of depleting its resources by the demanding vacuum of the global economy? While its economy appears to be disembodied from its society, a closer examination of Qatar’s recent efforts to restructure its cities shows that as long as the country remains flexible and pays heed to proper sequencing, it has the potential to generate self-sustaining economics of agglomeration.

Despite its claim to the second-highest GDP per capita in the world, Qatar itself seems like a very drab place. It has wealth, a high standard of living thanks to oil and natural gas exports, but it doesn’t seem to have a culture. With no cultural flavor to boast of, even its official tourism Website is dull and uninspiring. There’s nothing there that makes Qatar especially special from the other Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. Needless to say, it lacks a soul.

When we consider Jane Jacobs’ study of city-regions, Qatar’s soullessness can be attributed to its dearth of economically dynamic regions. Qatar is very much an unbalanced supply region in need of import replacement. Along with an economy held by a fragile backbone made of limited natural resources, the majority of the country’s population consists of foreign nationals filling temporary jobs. A majority-expatriate workforce and an imbalance of actual Qatari citizens—especially in Doha, the capital and economic center of Qatar—ultimately enervated the local strength of the country. Doha itself can be said to be a “cathedral in a desert,” where its transplanted natural resource-based industries clouded the foundations for indigenous industrial development. In spite of this, and in recognizing its own trend toward path dependency, Qatar has taken steps to diversify its economy and to revitalize both its physical city-planning infrastructure, as well as its bank of social capital. However, it must be wary of its own ambitions.

Two years ago, Qatar announced a long-term “National Master Plan” to transform itself into a more modern, self-sustaining country. The plan focuses on all aspects of development and is alarming in its proposed plans to instigate top-down cities that are meant to serve certain purposes. For instance, it has established an Education City, a Sports City, and it will soon be building an Entertainment City. It has even established the Qatar Science and Technology Park to develop a technology-based knowledge economy. Although Qatar’s strategy is well-intentioned, Jacobs’ would warn against taking such a segregated approach, as cities must be built from the ground-up according to the needs of the locals. Furthermore, cities need to be well-rounded to give way to the sequencing of import replacement, new markets, job creation, technology transplants, and eventual capital formation.

The Master Plan, however, offers the most promise in its commitment to cut down Qatar’s expatriate workforce by “placing a cap on foreign workers at 50% by 2025.” Weaning its workforce off a habit of transience will facilitate a localized population that will become more invested in the country. The rebuilding of societal infrastructure must be prioritized, as it is the citizens of a country that will lead to windows of opportunity out of path dependency. Limiting the number of expatriates will build local communities, which will then foster the social capital necessary to have horizontal networks in place to empower Qatari citizens. Through this, interstices will arise where locals can innovate and synergize Qatar out of the supply-region fate of Uruguay.

The local must be strengthened to ensure economic sustainability. Qatar must not import talent, but assess its city job markets, train its own citizens, and build its own knowledge stores before it can see the burgeoning of substantial city-regions. While mapping out its Master Plan was a good first step since it acknowledged the need to establish self-reliance, Qatar must not try to get too ahead of itself. Agglomeration is, after all, an emergent property; the country’s time frame for achieving development by 2025 is definitely too ambitious. Besides emphasizing the local, Qatar must also be patient in carrying out its plans.  Most importantly, it must be willing to improvise. As Jacobs writes, “in its very nature, successful economic development has to be open-ended rather than goal-oriented, and has to make itself up expediently and empirically as it goes along.” If Qatar can allow itself to adapt, it will be okay.

No responses yet | Categories: Uncategorized

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.