Jun 10 2009

Jane Jacobs v. Qatar

by at 3:45 pm

“Money don’t buy class…” were the words whispered to me when my mother saw what was being served to us by our wealthy hosts–stouffer’s lasagna. I think that Jane Jacobs might feel a similar sentiment about the Arab emirate of Qatar, second highest GDP per capita nation in the world.

Jacobs uses the beautiful phrase, “Cathedrals in the Desert” to describe nations that purchase “development” (or so they think) by implanting foreign factories and business in an otherwise empty economy. Qatar’s overall strategic plan is more nuanced. Instead of placing “Cathedrals,” they wish to purchase intellectual superiority over their neighbors in the Middle East in order to become the center of education in a region that often bans learning for many of its citizens.

One thing that I love about reading Jane Jacobs is the confidence she permeates in her own theories and the way she dismisses attempts of economic development without resorting to condescension. She writes about nations making the same mistakes over and over again but always with the best intentions. However, her perspective on the hamlets outside Tokyo provides hope for Qatar’s economic strategy. This city accepted the overwhelming economic influences of Tokyo during its expansion and profited from changes beyond its control. This reminded me of an article in the New York Times on two-hundred year old municipal bonds the city still pays out because before 1900 a hamlet outside the city limits realized that New York would eventually swallow them up and they might as well take out as many loans as possible since someone else would have to pay them off. In the same manner, Qatar realizes that as the Middle East becomes more liberalized in education, someone will need to accept the increasing number of students and it might as well be them.

I do not know what specific advice Jacobs would give to such a small, oil-rich country as Qatar in today’s economic environment. Oil constantly appears to be on the verge of being replaced by green technology, but the economic reality appears to be that oil will be valuable until we either run out or the environment is in such ruin that a worldwide massive reduction (somehow with enforcements) can be organized. Neither seems to be happening soon. The tragedy is that when oil prices finally do collapse, the economies that have been relying on them will be even more backwards compared to the those who have built industry without huge natural resources. It seems that any plan is better than no plan.

Just as money can make people blind to reality, economic wealth nationally can make countries blind to their own precarious position. Qatar is doing everything it possibly can to become the center of education, including attracting Georgetown and many other universities, in the Middle East. However, it might be wise to consider the “exit strategies” of these Western Universities. When will it be possible to educate the Middle East without help from the West as today we educate the West without assistance from the Middle East. Collaboration for learning is not a bad thing, but intellectual reliance could be extremely damaging.

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Jun 09 2009

sand castles

by at 7:11 pm

I imagine that before even beginning a discussion of Qatari prospects, Jane Jacobs would first insist that the proper unit of analysis is not, in fact, Qatar as a whole, but rather its chief city, Doha/Ad-Dawha, even if the Qatari riyal remains pegged to the US dollar. Then, I think Jacobs would quote herself, and call Doha and its surrounding region a “cathedral in the desert”, because of its geographically unlikely rise. And, while it is true that there are economic opportunities for and in Doha and Qatar, Jacobs might remind us that these opportunities are leveraged against the oil-wealth which gives the Qatari ruling family its power. For this discussion, we should consider how Doha and Qatar fit the model for cities and economic agglomeration outlined by Jacobs, in order to think of the future of this city-region. Continue Reading »

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Jun 09 2009

Qatar – The Rising Tide of Oil & Natural Gas Lifts Most

by at 6:49 pm

Qatar is a successful version of a city-state that has been able to make use of its natural resources and is trying to diversify its economy.  Thus Jacobs would probably support many of Qatar’s efforts, although she might think that the state remains too dependent on natural resources.  [It is also worth noting that Jacobs does not see nations as the best unit of analysis, so she might not speak about Qatar as a whole.]  Qatar is located on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf.  Jane Jacobs, in her book Cities and the Wealth of Nations, notes that countries generally have one main city – in the case of Qatar this is Doha.  A US State Department web page on Qatar states that the majority of people in Qatar live in Doha.  (US Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Background Note: Qatar, January 2009, www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5437.htm)  Thus Qatar is defined by this one huge urban area.
Qatar is an extractive region that is largely dependent on natural resources for its wealth and makes extensive use of foreign laborers.  The country has large amounts of natural gas and oil and 60% of its GDP comes from those commodities (State).  Other industries include manufacturing, mining, power, and construction.  However, its exports remain 36% natural gas and 47% oil (State).  These exports only began in 1949, but increased dramatically in 1973 (State).  Qatar seems to have successfully accomplished the sequence Jacobs writes about “markets, jobs, transplants, technology, capital.” (p. 44)  Clearly, dramatic price decreases in oil and natural gas would have significant negative effects on Qatar’s economy, so it is important for Qatar to save for hard times and to try to diversify its economy.
As a result of its natural resource wealth, Qatar has created a prosperous life for most of its citizens.  The people of Qatar are generally very well off – in 2007 their per capita income was $67,000—fifth in the world—according to the State web page.  They are also well educated, with 98% of the population attending school through the age of 16 and an 89% literacy rate in 2004 (State).
The Qatari government has been seeking to diversify and innovate in other areas of its economy. (State)  Jacobs would approve, as she writes “economic life develops by grace of innovating.” (Jacobs, p. 39)  Through the Qatar Foundation, created by the Emir of Qatar in 1995, (Qatar Foundation web page, http://www.qf.org.qa/output/page10.asp) Qatar is promoting economic growth in the areas of education and research.  The Foundation built and runs Education City, which is a large campus containing six university campus branches, such as those belonging to Georgetown, Northwestern, Carnegie Melon, Texas A&M, and others. (Qatar Foundation web page)  Sponsoring higher education and research is certainly a useful way in which Qatar promotes innovation and this future economic diversity.  Furthermore, although not sponsored by the state, Al Jazeera has also developed into a media industry in Qatar and achieved worldwide fame as the first relatively free 24 hour news Arab international media station.  The fact that the Amir has allowed this innovation is certainly positive.  Qatar also seems to be moving to diversify into the large conference-hosting industry.  One high profile example was that they hosted the Doha round of the WTO talks.  I think that Jacobs would support these many efforts at innovation and economic diversification with the aim of growth.
The Qatari state also pursues ‘Qatarization,’ of which Jacobs would probably approve.  Qatarization aims to move Qatari citizens into important positions in joint ventures, etc., which would previously have been occupied by foreign intelligentsia. (State)   Jacobs promotes the use of local people, so that they are able to run operations without foreigners, if needed.  Thus she would likely approve of this nationalistic program.
Qatar is creating its own change, rather than being a passive source of natural resources.  Thus it is a positive example of which Jacobs would likely approve.

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Jun 09 2009

The improtance of educational enthusiasm in a country

by at 3:55 pm

            Frankly, Quatar was merely one of oil-rich countries to me. Although several facts such as Doha Asian Olympic Game in 2006 and Georgetown SFS Quatar campus have stimulated my curiosity about the nation, I have always concluded swiftly that the Quatar’s prosperity is entirely due to oil. It is true that oil has played a decisive role for Quatar to transform its fishery economy to a wealthy international economy. However not all oil producing countries have achieved that prosperity.

           According to Jane Jacobs, generating market, creating jobs, spread of city work, technological innovation, and growing city capital are key process of development. To Quatar, oil has provided market and a certain amount of jobs to this small country. However the rest of process is not automatically accompanied by discovery of oil in Quatar. As the book ‘bottom billion’ discussed, easily earned wealth from oil tends to be centralized to higher class people of the society and the extremely unequal wealth distribution is the reason of corruption, instability, and violence.  

           Among many aspects of Qutar’s success, I think Jane Jacobs would assess the educational enthusiasm of the country as a key reason of prosperity because high level education means that the country will have affluent human capital which is pivotal element for technological innovation, knowledge industry, and stronger civic engagement. I was told that the country is providing compulsory education for low or free of tuition until high school and induced world class schools and institutions. With the blessed natural resources, the human capital supports the sequential, sustainable advance of Quatar.

            However I cannot easily find the geopolitical importance of the small state. It is bordered by Saudi Arabia and there is Iran across the Persian Sea. Although the two neighbors are important in world politics, is it attractive enough to catch all the international business/financial/scholarly people?

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Jun 09 2009

Economic development itself can not make a real development

by at 3:53 pm

Through several sessions of the course, it became clearer to me that development matter should be considered not only in an economic perspective, but also in a social structural perspective; a society’s history, culture and institutions. In the same sense, western countries’ economic success model cannot be directly transplanted to a developing country which has different structure unless there are concurrent strategies for institutional change at the same time. This viewpoint also explains why western economic success or Asian four dragon’s path has not been reiterated in many developing countries.

Some might argue that economic development can be still achieved without institutional changes such as growth of civic society and political maturity, providing the example of Dubai, one of seven Arab Emirates states. The city-state Dubai emerged as the center of luxurious tourism, world class financial service, and significant real-estate market of middle-east Asia during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although most part of the country is covered with sand, the state’s highly centralized government had changed the desert into a vibrant business place. The country has the world’s first 7 star hotel and the world highest tower (this building is under construction). Investors have brought huge amount of money to the tax-free country and the money stimulated further growth, in turn. “Although Dubai’s economy was built on the back of the oil industry, revenues from oil and natural gas currently account for less than 6% of the emirates’ revenues” as the year of 2005[i] However, it is hard to say that they have substantial social capitals. The country is still maintaining power centralized monarchy and there is little civic involvement.

South Korean politicians were once eulogized the splendid development of Dubai and even insisted that we had to learn the model. However, Dubai asked bail-out money from IMF recently since investors rushed out the city right after the global economic crisis. The prosperity of Dubai turned to be built on bubbles, which was not a real development.

I was raised in a country where economic growth had absolute priority in all development aspects. Social welfare, labor’s right, political diversity, wealth distribution, and environment were ignored for a long time. That is why we have still unstable society although we achieved a significant economic growth. We were not allowed to raise considerable civic society in the past. We were taught that economic growth is the most important thing for everyone and we had to endure and even sacrifice our generation, if necessary, for the nation’s future. However, I do not think the fruits have not been evenly distributed. Economic growth and social capital have to be grown at the same time, affecting and complementing each other.

Related to the issue, I remember one impressive moment when I visited Vietnam three years ago. I was there to report the emerging economy of Vietnam and its government-driven development policy called ‘Do-E-Mo-E’. In Vietnam, there are corruption problems in public sector and the decision making process is not transparent. Hence it is very important to make a good relationship with bureaucrats when you run a business, which is not surprising at all in developing countries. At that time, I visited one of Korean construction companies who had won a big project after several years’ formal and “informal efforts”. But the company representative said the project was in danger of becoming null since indigenous civic society was strongly against the project because of environmental issue. (There was a big national park on the spot where the construction project was about to be started.) I was so impressed because the fact that Vietnamese people were concerning not only economic development but also environment protection at the same time. Despite of corrupted government, I could see hopes for the future of Vietnam.

[i] Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubai#Economy

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Jun 09 2009

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

by at 3:35 pm

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. Continue Reading »

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Jun 09 2009

Oh, Doha: Where do we go from here?

by at 3:26 pm

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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Jun 09 2009

Qatarization – a Genius Idea

by at 2:47 pm

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. Continue Reading »

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Jun 09 2009

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

by at 2:05 pm

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). Continue Reading »

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Jun 09 2009

Lusailin’ …it takes me away to where I’m going

by at 1:31 pm

Christopher Cross believed in the organic creation of smooth music when he wrote the 1980 hit, “Sailing.” He knew that his music was a product of where he had been and everything he was. It wasn’t just the mass exporting of his killer good looks or really smooth guitar riffs. He took the fruitful region that was his life, found his chief product of music, and exported it to the world. This is probably was inspired Jane Jacobs to reflect on cities and publish her book in 1984.  She knew that cities were full of complication and needed a natural flow and order to their growth and sustainability.


Jane probably cringed at the synthesized and raucous sounds of most of the music in those years. It was interesting, but unnatural and didn’t flow from the heart. Not like Christopher Cross.  She would probably cringe at a lot of the music out there today. And she would definitely cringe at the idea’s of Qatar’s cities.  Take the developing city of Lusail for example.

“The city of Lusail is a meticulously planned urban development, unlike anything witnessed before. Within just a few short years, a dramatic new vision of the future will rise up from the desert sands. Lusail will be the ultimate in living experience for around 200,000 people.” lusail.com

Being as smooth and laid back as he is, especially after sailing the whole way Qatar, Christopher Cross might say, “Wait a minute, this Lusail place might work out okay. They’ve got about a million sailboats here after all.” Jane would have to explain it to the old skipper. Sure, the city was necessary to meet the huge demands for workers in the booming oil business. In fact, the city might thrive and diversify at some level if the oil business carried on for decades to come. But the world is unpredictable, and Lusail would not be prepared if the oil market shrank significantly.

For most cities in Qatar, there is no real economic diversity — oil is across-the-board dominant.  If oil revenue would get cut back, the whole system could grind to a halt. The cities could never have existed in a desert without the huge cash influx of oil revenue.  In fact, the situation is so hyperbolized that Jacobs’ framework hardly even applies here. Every city in Qatar would have to start from scratch if they wanted to be safe from failing at the most intense level.

But what about a level down from there – sustainability of the city while oil was still in demand? This concept might intrigue Jacobs. How could a city that imports EVERYTHING be such a nice place to live? For that, she’d have to hop on a schooner with Christopher and take a cruise around the harbor and adjacent fishing villages. What better way to get to know the people and the complexity of their city?


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