Prepared by Majd Musa with Mohammad al-Asad, 2003
Transcription of Arabic lecture provided by Diala Anabtawi
A follow-up question enquired whether the urban development of Riyadh during the 1980s and 1990s was tradition-conscious. The questioner mentioned that although al-Hathloul presented in his lecture the traditional urban planning pattern of Old Riyadh, which, with its compact and low profile buildings, resembles urban patterns in other old Islamic and Arab cities, and the later modern grid pattern planning of Riyadh, in which the motor vehicle was established as the primary means of transportation, al-Hathloul did not put much emphasis on the planning pattern of the city during the last two decades of the twentieth century. The questioner wondered whether the awareness of traditional architecture that al-Hathloul mentioned in the context of the urban development of Riyadh over the past two decades only applies to the scale of the individual building design, especially that al-Hathloul himself focused on presenting examples of tradition-conscious buildings. The questioner also enquired whether there are any recent initiatives for applying tradition-oriented approaches to urban planning in Riyadh.
Al-Hathloul mentioned that the tradition-oriented approaches of the past two decades not only applied to individual buildings in Riyadh, but also to the urban planning of the city. This is obviously the case in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Staff Housing Project and the planning and re-planning of a few residential neighborhoods in Riyadh. Al-Hathloul added that although the urban plan for the project of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Staff Housing was assigned to Albert Speer & Partner, the development of this plan was much influenced by the input of architects Ali Shuaibi and Farahat Tashkandi, who worked as consultants for Ar-Riyadh Development Authority and who exerted considerable efforts to help create an urban plan that relates to the traditional urban pattern of the city. This project, adds al-Hathloul, has had a significant impact on the planning of other residential areas in Riyadh as well as in other cities of the Kingdom, as mentioned above. However, al-Hathloul added that a problem that one faces when addressing planning projects is that they take a long time to be realized; sometime more than twenty years. This partly applies even to a project such as al-Hamra Quarter, which was intended to house the staff of universities in Riyadh. This neighborhood project was designed following the cul-de-sac planning concept, and emphasized the ease of pedestrian movement. The project has been built at a relatively fast pace, and therefore it is possible to identify some of the planning concepts of the project. However, it will take a few more years before the whole picture regarding real life in the project will become evident.
The lecturer was asked to elaborate on Ar-Riyadh Development Authority and how effective it has been in the urban development of the city of Riyadh. The lecturer asserted that the Authority has had a positive role in the urban development of the city. He added that the Authority is an independent entity responsible not only for the building development of Riyadh, but also for the development of the different aspects of the city, such as its society, economy, and environment. Al-Hathloul added that the Authority also is an effective coordinating body between the different parties responsible for decision-making in the city. This is facilitated by the Authority's wide variety of members that include a number of deputy ministers from ministries involved in infrastructure and development processes, such as the ministries of Finance, Economy and Planning, and Agriculture and Water, to name a few. Also, the members of the Authority include businessmen, nominated by the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce, as well as a few outstanding men of the city. The Authority is also effective as an executive body in the city. This is achieved through the Authority's Projects and Planning Department, which has been responsible for the construction of a few large-scale projects in Riyadh during the past two decades. Al-Hathloul mentioned that the project of the reconstruction of Qasr al-Hukm and al-Masjid al-Jami', as well as the urban development of the nearby public spaces, discussed earlier, was carried out under the supervision of the Authority. Such a project, added al-Hathloul, would have been difficult to approach in the same holistic and integrative manner if each of its components were to be carried out under the supervision of a different party, i.e. the Ministry of Religious Affairs for al-Masjid al-Jami' and the Ministry of Interior for Qasr al-Hukm. This also applies to the King ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Historical Center, which was designed and constructed under the Authority's supervision. In addition, the Authority took on the significant role of undertaking full responsibility for the construction of the Diplomatic Quarter project, mentioned earlier. According to al-Hathloul, if it were not for the Ar-Riyadh Development Authority the city of Riyadh would not have had such a large number of impressive tradition-conscious award-winning projects (41).
The last question enquired about the expansion of the city of Riyadh. The questioner, who had resided in the city, mentioned that Riyadh continues to expand horizontally and that this expansion is resulting in a very low population density for the city. He wondered about the extent to which the city may continue to spread out especially with its remarkable population growth rate. Also, the questioner wondered whether there are any long-term strategies for the urban development of the city, such as establishing new satellite towns. Al-Hathloul agreed that Riyadh suffers from an exaggerated horizontal expansion. In his opinion, this expansion was much facilitated by the Doxiadis master plan for Riyadh, mentioned earlier. The resulting low population density in the city, added al-Hathloul, necessitates unrealistically high levels of investment in the city's infrastructure, and does not support the development of an efficient public transportation system for the city. Another important issue is that the kingdom's population is growing at a very high rate. In 1992, the kingdom had a population of around 17 million people, of which 12.3 million were Saudi citizens; in 2020 the kingdom will have an estimated population between 39 and 52 million. He added that the kingdom has a population growth rate, which stands at an annual average of 3.4%. This rate of population growth is not expected to significantly slow down in the near future, as factors affecting population growth work at a very slow rate. Another important factor affecting the physical expansion of Riyadh as well as other cities in the kingdom is urbanization. Al-Hathloul mentioned that currently about 80% of Saudi Arabia's population lives in the cities, compared to 15% in 1950. Considering current planning strategies and directions, Riyadh is expected to have about 11 million people by 2020, whereas Jeddah will have 8 million, and Dammam between 5 to 6 million. Here, al-Hathloul noted that Riyadh's population is growing at a rate of about 8%, which is the fastest rate among the cities of Saudi Arabia, and possibly among the cities of the Arabian Gulf. The high growth rate of the city's population is influenced by the population growth in the kingdom as well as internal migration to the capital. Thus, new urban development strategies are needed to keep the growth rate of Riyadh's population within a reasonable rate. He believes that a population of about 7 million people by 2020 would be acceptable for Riyadh (42).
With such a fast rate of population growth, new directions and strategies concerning urban development in Saudi Arabia need to be sought, and thus a number of alternatives for the national spatial strategy have been studied. One of the envisioned alternatives adopts the idea of economic efficiency, according to which urban development would continue to be concentrated in the major cities of the kingdom, particularly in the vacant areas that already have the necessary infrastructure services. Although such a strategy would establish the desirable high population density, it would emphasize the dominance of major cities over secondary ones, and thus encourage further migration to those major cities. Another strategic alternative adopts the idea of social equity, according to which urban development would extend throughout the developing regions in the northern and southern areas of the kingdom. Such an alternative, notes al-Hathloul, is economically unfeasible. Al-Hathloul added that the alternative that has been adopted is a more or less intermediate alternative between these two extreme alternatives. According to this alternative, urban development is to be concentrated along 3 or 4 major development corridors that would run from north to the south, and a few other corridors that would run from east to west. Such corridors would emerge from major urban centers that already have the necessary infrastructure services, such as Riyadh and Qaseem, where distances between the cities is reasonable - around 350 kilometers, and where a few small- and medium-sized towns with the potential to expand exist. The idea is to start with existing nucleuses. There are already 13 or 14 cities, the capitals of the different regions of the kingdom, that have basic infrastructure services, such as airports, universities and colleges, as well as transportation and communication facilities. The investment in such cities would be reasonable, and it is this approach that currently is being implemented. Thus, concludes al-Hathloul, the strategic approach concerning urban development in Saudi Arabia basically focuses on the idea of development corridors and on the expansion of the small- and medium-sized towns that are located along these corridors, and among which most industrial and educational institutions and facilities will be distributed to remove the burden of undesirable expansion away from major cities (43).