The urbanism of rapidly growing cities in the Gulf region

Authored by: Surajit Chakravarty

The New Companion to Urban Design

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138302129
eBook ISBN: 9780203731932
Adobe ISBN:


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Cities of the Arabian/Persian Gulf region have grown from dusty outposts into bustling centers of the global economy in a matter of a few decades. The oil wealth has been invested wisely to create world-class infrastructure, particularly ports and roads. In addition, most major cities of the region serve as hubs for international airlines. Moreover, each city is attempting to create its own tourism identity, developing an image based on a combination of nightlife, shopping, culture, family-oriented activities, or faith-based destinations. These exciting and dynamic spaces are, however, criticized for lacking a sense of history and continuity, for being environmentally irresponsible, and for inadequately protecting the rights of foreign workers, particularly those in low-wage sectors. Four uniquely dysfunctional aspects of Gulf cities are discussed in this context. These are a car-oriented outlook, a fragmented urban fabric, an urban form reinforcing segregation along lines of income and identity, and a “people-last” architecture that privileges power, profit, and image. Although the chapter draws mainly from the experiences of Abu Dhabi, the lessons apply broadly to other cities in the region. The chapter suggests the idea of “un-city” to capture the unique urban experience of the region. A new continuum of the urban condition is suggested in the chapter’s conclusion – one that is sensitive to the un-civilizing forces of our times.

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