The programme aims to analyse the commitment of different cities in the implementation of national and regional spatial strategies and the feasibility of such strategies. It also focuses on the capacities of local administrative and institutional bodies and development partners for the implementation of these policies and strategies. This includes discussions with various development partners and interest groups for the reformulation of a new planning vision in Saudi Arabia that is based on an accurate diagnosis of all challenges facing cities and exploring the optimal urban pattern to enable cities to compete, attract investments, open new horizons for skill development, innovation and restoration and promotes public participation.

The 17 participating programme cities have been selected based on different population sizes, range of capacities and economic potential and will benefit and learn from each other. The selection is also in light of the Kingdom’s strive for a more balanced territorial development between cities.
The Future Saudi Arabia Cities Program aims to achieve sustainable urbanization in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

It contributes to a shift in how urban development is perceived and addressed in the country by promoting a new urban agenda. The goal is ultimately to achieve future cities that are able to achieve balance between the three basic objectives: quality of life, economic competitiveness and environmental protection. Some of the key strategies that the programme utilises to promote sustainable urban development in Saudi Arabia are:
I. Increasing evidence-based and multi-dimensional analysis of cities using the City Prosperity Index, addressing urban sprawl and urban expansion in an informed and planned manner.
II. Understanding and providing recommendations on the legislative and institutional context necessary for proposed changes in how urban development is addressed.
III. Strengthening institutional relations between ministries and partners engaged in the urban sector. Assessing capacity gaps and developing tailor-made capacity for stakeholders involved.
IV. Engaging and integrating the needs of all residents and in particular youth and women’s needs as part of urban plans. Enhancing public awareness in the Kingdom on the notion of prosperous cities and sustainable urbanization. Creating forums for engagement on Saudi urban development issues both in the country and internationally.

National Spatial Strategy Analysis: From Spatial Strategy to National Urban Policy for Sustainable Urbanization

The development plans will need to be more aligned with the national spatial strategy of Saudi Arabia launched in 2000 and further updated in 2014 and to be informed by the regional, territorial and city strategies and plans. With the aim to reduce urban sprawl, promoting spatially-balanced development and protecting the environment, the strategy will need to be revised as a major strategy direction that focuses on creating (eastern, central and western) development corridors and targeted investment to less-developed regions, designating small- and medium-sized cities as regional growth centres. Such strategy direction according to other developing world experience and as per the urbanization model evolved in Saudi cities did not reduce energy consumption, was environmentally unsustainable and, at the end, economically inefficient. It did not reduce unemployment rates nor prevented urban sprawl in major cities (Jeddah, Riyadh), thus slums and informal settlements increased.

Jeddah for example has identified uneven population densities and an overdeveloped road network as major issues, along with sprawl: the city has an overall area of 1,765 km2, larger than Bangkok or New York – both cities with more than double the population of Jeddah. Developing a more compact urban core through the use of boundaries and around 75% of the vacant land within them is a stated aim of its strategic plan.
Municipalities deal with everyday urban management, but lack adequate resources or capacity to undertake urban management functions with any substantive degree of autonomy.

Lack of coordination between departments has often resulted in contradictory policies: for example, the government’s policy of free land and interest free loans to real estate developers, without consultation with spatial policy makers, resulted in uncontrolled urban expansion.
The Future Saudi Cities Program provides a holistic approach to develop a National Urban Policy/ Strategy that amalgamates the dispersed energy and potential of urban centres within the national system, regions, governorates, and cities. 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.

Towards people centred inclusive urban planning in 17 cities:

Urban planning practices have remained the less effective activity of the state. So much so in fact that the resulting urban form of Riyadh and other modern annexes of modern Saudi cities have developed into a patchwork of rectangular subdivisions.
Urban planning remains centralized in the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (with limited exceptions of the four major cities Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca and Medina), despite the ever increasing expansion of the city’s coverage – often in line with outmoded plans such as the super-grid road network. This was formally enshrined in Riyadh in the First Master Plan of 1973, designed by a Greek consultant which laid out a ‘functional’ modern city around a grid. Among other issues, this resulted in segregation and imposed an economic map on the population, favouring social ties over economy.

The programme will recommend a well-developed decentralized planning framework based on 17 city analyses and plan reviews and present proposals to reduce the urban expansion of cities that is led by land speculation. Through the Urban Planning Labs introduced in selected cities proposals for densifications, connectivity and integration are to be introduced in order to reduce privatization of Saudi life and the preference for detached housing. The programme is undertaking a set of studies to introduce planning guidelines that are in line with international standards to reduce auto-dependence, sprawl, scattered development, extensive road construction and massive outlays on costly infrastructure and gradually increase the density of residential housing. Urban boundaries will be critically studied based on the results of urban indicators for city prosperity to stop and optimize unnecessary sub-division of outer areas in Saudi cities (despite the availability of undeveloped sub-divisions closer to the core) and propose measures to strictly enforce regulations to stop land speculation.

The Future Saudi Cities Program has presented solutions to the Secretariat of Urban Planning using the Urban Lab checklist for plan reviews to enhance the process of land sub-divisions for developing mixed-uses housing communities, densification, reducing sprawl and increasing municipal revenues from land planning and management services. A land and construction sector study will present evidence based policy guidelines that can position well the National Urban Policy. The program will have a country wide advocacy campaign to promote participatory planning, changes in consumption patterns and housing life-style and promoting effective utilization of space.

Saudi cities have prepared a number of programmes for slum upgrading and urban regeneration, the current approach adopted is land and property evacuation with compensation that was implemented in Mecca, Medina, Riyadh and Jeddah. This model that is mainly led by government agencies is not the best solution. The programme, through establishing urban labs in selected cities, will develop implementation tools for participatory upgrading and regeneration with public-private partnership and introduce the regeneration agencies to new models of national and international partnerships in urban regeneration and slum improvements.

Planned City Extension for Buraydah

UN-Habitat is developing an Action Plan in a selected area in Buraydah in order to test a 3-pronged planning process within actual KSA planning context and to explain with a practical case UN-Habitat principles for sustainable urban development. The Buraydah project will be followed in the future by similar activities in at least other two cities (Riyadh and Dammam).

Project Duration: 2015-2016
Value USD: 90000
Donor: in-house agreement
Implementing Partners: Ministry of Housing, MoMRA