What Urban Planning in the Gulf Gets Wrong

This a from a presentation on improving urban planning in the Gulf.  The positive measures are a trade secret but I thought it would be fun to share the problems slides.  Especially as politicians and advisers in some other jurisdictions so easily forget the problems caused when you plan badly or not at all.

1. Build, Build, Build















Without considering water, electricity, jobs, services or transport, and similarly employment areas often disconnected from the housing of those who would work in them. Speaking with local planners in one country notorious for this they often say they don’t care as there orders are to deliver x homes, y jobs etc. Things are worst in sectoral ministries but are changing rapidly in those cities set with commissions to deliver integrated planning.

2. If You Build It They Will Come












Before the 2008 downturn schemes were driven by geometries and not realism or economics. In Dubai probably the worst example of this was the World development. A series of artificial islands designed to be resorts without any infrastructure whatever, and each unfeasible without reserve osmosis, district co0lling plants etc. which are uneconomic to provide on small islands requiring oil fueled power stations and their own water taxi fleet to serve each. Only one island has been developed.

Although the scale and rapidity of development is impressive it has led to hubris and disconnection from market realities, as the mega scale of projects became their only drivinbg force.  The best example being Dubai Waterside, one project with more floorspace than Hong Kong .  How would the market have absorbed that?










3. Inappropriate models from cold climates

Such as this attempt to rebuild Paris in Dubai,















Or worse to build off Dubai’s, shore an iceberg hotel, just think of the freezing bill.















4. Car dominated – poor urban quality of life














In the 1970s many Gulf Countries abolished their bus services because of underuse just as in the rest of the world a transport planning revolution was slowly beginning.  In the last decade there has been recognition that public transport needs investment.  But the legacy of car dominated urban environments and infrastructure remains.  Though Abu Dhabi has abandoned plans to drived an expressway though its city centre in Bahrain its only on permanent hold through indecision on transport strategy whilst one emirate incredibly still plans a 1960s style Motorway Box building right through its finest park and main city centre and dumping the traffic flow at the most already most congested road in the middle east.

5. Public transport retrofitted or non existent













It is often difficult to retrofit public transport networks because megaprojects have been developed in advance of public transport networks and those networks often have to either skirt around them or very expensively dig underneath them.  The classic example here being the Dubai Mal/Burj Khaifa district (Downtown Dubai) where a travelator has to take shoppers nearly 2km from the metro station to the largest shopping Mall in the world, one where they didn’t even design in a glass roof so you cant even see approaching the tallest buulding in the world.   Contrast Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi where the entire development is on a Podium and the metro will go underneath without any tunneling.

6. Water adds most value – but difficult to retrofit, & coastline made inaccessible or lost














Water is the key to adding value and creating a less harsh microclimate.  However water networks have not been subject to a long term network strategy alongside other infrastructure, leading either to, as in the Arabian Canal project overambitious projects now abandoned, or in the Dubai Water Canal project, them having to be retrofitted at great expense around new expressways designed without regard to getting water underneath. Although though Dubai has a reputation as a beachfront city the reality is almost nowhere does it have development taking advantage of a seafront location, it is mostly sprawling villas backing on to the coast – part from the new JBR development.  There is no attractive seafront cornice such as at Sharjah, Abu Dhabi or Bahrain.

7. Megaprojects inward looking, not inclusive or connected












Whilst many parts of the world have turned their noses up at single class gated communities they power on in the Gulf.  Super exclusivity is treated as a calling card.  But the calls for greater security are more about fear of the ‘other’ than reality, such as this call from a resident horrified that her housekeeper fell pregnant from the estate groundskeeper.


8. District cooling and sustainability standards not always applied

Strong in some parts weak or none existent on others.   This partially reflects land ownership patterns it is easier to do in Dubai and Abi Dhabi where development is driven by megaprojects from a few magadevelopers than elsewhere where plots have widely diffuse land ownership and megaprojects are rarer.

9. Megaprojects don’t always have EIA

The classic example being the Palms and the world, rushed through after the post 9/11 crunch they had now EIA, though shaped like pearls they succeeded only in burying existing shells under sediments using up all usable supplies of dredgable sand in poorly designed shapes that created ‘red tides’ of algal bloom.  The final phases of teh project has halted and is unikley ever to reamerge (other than the completion of the already reclaimed Deira Island)  They have now largely precluded better planned land reclamation which is becoming increasingly important to the growth of Abu Dhabi. The lesson, dropping EIA rules for political reasons is always a bad idea.

10.Leapfrogging leaving behind most accessible sites and older urban areas













Development has spread along major roads and beachfronts, often leapfrogging the urban edge and leaving behind the most potentially accessible (by transit plots).  In Dubai for example large plots 30km from the old centre have been developed, whilst huge areas 4km away remain undeveloped.  Perhaps a lesson now partially learned as the new ‘redline’ for the metros includes stops at two edge of centre districts that have yet to be developed.

11. SLOAP – poor use of land around roads










Space left over after planning.  Or in this case planning for roads that is often so dominant, as here at Dubai Festival City my favorite example, there is no space left to build much else in easy to develop and acess, regular sized plots.

This list could be added to ad nausium.  Ill leave it there for now.



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