Urban planning strategies and frameworks frequently fail to keep up with the rapid rate of urbanisation. This results in spontaneous forms of urbanisation, characterised by less dense and inefficient land use patterns. Among these is the lack of urban public space, which traditionally provides relief in urban environments and has an important social function in Arab societies. Planned urbanization in the Arab region is constrained by the lack of coherent urban policies at national, subnational and city levels, lack of coherence amongst sectoral strategies, and lack of linkage of spatial development strategies with sectoral development strategies. Local governments and municipalities therefore lack a framework to adequately guide, plan and regulate urban development and expansion, as well as the capacity and resources to do so. A lack of coordination between departments also leads to contradicting policies in some countries. As a result, the potential for urbanization to drive growth and development is constrained. In order to change this, more holistic approaches to urban development are needed, guided by National Urban Policies. With its long-time experience in the field and a number of tools at its disposal UN-Habitat is well prepared to support the Arab governments plan and design sustainable urban growth. Tools deployed in the Arab Region include urban and metropolitan planning, neighbourhood planning, planned city extensions, and urban infill design.

Saudi Arabia: Future Saudi Cities Programme

Embedded in the context of UN-Habitat’s Future Saudi Cities Programme, UN-Habitat is working together with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to formulate and implement a National Urban Policy. The previous national spatial strategy of 2000 required revision to take into consideration energy consumption, environmentally sustainability and economic efficiency. It also needs to address unemployment rates and  prevent urban sprawl, particularly in major cities (Jeddah, Riyadh), which currently experience the growth of slums and informal settlements. The National Urban Policy needs also to reform the governance of cities, as municipalities lack adequate resources and capacity to undertake urban management functions with any substantive degree of autonomy and lack of coordination between departments has often resulted in contradictory policies.

The Future Saudi Cities Programme provides a holistic approach to develop a National Urban Policy that amalgamates within a national system of regions, governorates and cities the currently dispersed energy and potential of urban centres. The National Urban Policy will coordinate the work of different sectors and tiers of government, establish the incentives for more sustainable practices, and will provide a planned and geographically connected basis for the allocation of resources.