Delirious Doha

A survey of recent projects in Qatar reveals a particular brand of "instant urbanism": while by 2022 more luxury hotels will be opened to cater for Westerns and westernised Arabs who can afford to enjoy exclusive services, issues such as spatial segregation, sustainable urban development, and affordable housing remain unsolved.

"Instant" & "Petro-Urbanism" in Doha
Several terms have been used to label the recent extraordinary urban growth of Arab capitals of the Persian Gulf. For instance, Bagaeen [1] has described Gulf cities in terms of their "Instant Urbanism" to differentiate it from Western, long-term urban evolution. Twenty decades earlier, Riad [2] theorized of a "Petro-Urbanism" which "... undermined, with unparalleled suddenness, the roots of an ecosystem [the Gulf's one] which reflected a perfect adaptation to an environment many generations old".

After independence from British protectorate rules in 1971, Qatar embarked on a rapid phase of modernisation on the strength of its rising oil revenues [3] . During the 1970s the American firm Pereira Architects shaped the new waterfront of Doha with the characteristic convex-like profile it maintains today. At the end of this super-imposed waterfront the new Sheraton Hotel dominated the skyline of the city. Since the end of the 1990s, inspired by the success of Dubai to diversify its economy, Qatar has embarked in a vast mega-projects campaign to globalise Doha [4]. The American style branch campus of Education City; The Pearl; an off-shore development modelled after Dubai's Palms; and the future 12 stadia for the 2022 FIFA World Cup are but a sampling of Qatar's instant urbanism.

At the same time, Qatar is location for a very diverse population made up of temporary workers, outnumbering Qataris 5 to 1 [5]. Due to foreign immigration, between 2004 and 2010 Metro Doha's population has more than doubled from nearly 700,000 to 1,4 million inhabitants. The Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning (MMUP) forecasts that by 2032 Metro Doha will be 1.8 million inhabitants [6] .

In recent years, as continuation of a "Mega-Project Phase," the government and big private investors have been implementing several interesting large developments such as, amongst others, the Mshereib Redevelopment in the city centre, Education City to the North-West off Doha's metropolitan area, and the artificial island known as The Pearl to attract tourists, high-skilled workers, and affluent locals. However, while by 2022 more luxury hotels will be opened to cater for Westerns and westernised Arabs who can afford to enjoy exclusive services including spa treatments and gourmet restaurants, issues such as spatial segregation, sustainable urban development, and affordable housing remain unsolved.

The Pearl: Leisure Urbanism a la Dubai
The works for the manmade island The Pearl started in October 2004 with the aim to deliver "…unique, true freehold investment opportunities in a safe, relaxed, friendly and exclusive environment". Located to the North of Doha, this 400 hectare mega-project, with an estimated cost of 16 billion euro, is owned by the United Development Company, a consortium of private investors which in 2011 had to be bailed out by the government, as result of the prolonged global credit crunch and lack of investors and residents. Two big artificial bays, 5 five-star hotels, 18,000 luxury villas with private beaches, and apartments themed up with references from the Arab Maghreb to the Mediterranean Riviera will be home to up to approximately 41,000 residents. The rich "international residents" will be served with some of the best international retail chains such as Cavalli, Yves Saint Laurent, and Rolls Royce and five star restaurants such as Gordon Ramsay's Maze.

While doubts about the legitimacy of this off shore developments in the hot area of the Persian Gulf Region has already been raised by Tehran, on the ground that a modification of a nation's shoreline may give reasons for future territorial disputes, it seems that the current global economic downturn is the major factor for the slowdown of such developments (The Pearl was scheduled for completion in 2013, although given the current economic constraints it is unlikely it will be finished before the end of this decade). Moreover, the environmental costs are unquestionably high: to close part of the shallow waters surrounding the shell-like island for the reclamation process will destroy the seabed and heavily impact marine fauna. Finally, concerns about the free consumption of alcohol in open spaces within the perimeter of The Pearl have been vowed by conservative Qataris, leading to a temporary alcohol ban imposed by the authorities from December 2011 in the whole island.

Mshereib Redevelopment: Urban Redevelopment and Gentrification
Overseen by Qatar Foundation's real estate arm Mshereib Properties, the Mshereib redevelopment is a 4,47 billion euro redevelopment project located in the heart of Doha, scheduled to be completed by 2014. While formerly the area was occupied by a number of affordable South Asian shops, the aim of this mega-project is to attract Qataris to the city centre with a re-designed built environment that captures the rich and distinctive qualities of the country's cultural heritage and traditions.

However, the plan allocates much of the resources for street malls, luxury shops, and high-end hotels to replace the former humble activities. A handful of houses have been kept to witness the previous urban layout, which drastically changed as the entire area has been dig up 15 metres below the ground level for parking and infrastructure requirements. Officials from the local Ministry of Municipality and urban Planning have questioned the integration of this development within the framework of Qatar's National Master Plan. Although this mega-project has several merits — such as increasing density in the urban centre, implement a mix use land use, and provide for pedestrian-oriented mobility —, virtually no efforts have been made to assess its impacts on the social tissue (e.g. gentrification and displacement).

Education City: Transiting from a Carbon to a Knowledge Economy
The Qatar Foundation is a non-profit organisation created by the Emir of Qatar in 1995 that is investing billions of dollars in the futuristic Education City campus to attract top western universities, renowned researchers, and knowledge sector companies to Qatar. When completed (scheduled completion by 2014) Education City will accommodate 15 major world renowned branch colleges, a major specialised teaching hospital, central library, convention centre, equestrian academy, 18 hole golf club, large scale on-campus housing, and a science & technology park. Design firms from all over the world will take part to this massive urban intervention such as KEO and HOK (US), Arata Isozaki (Japan), Woods Bagot (Australia), Ricardo Logorreta (Mexico), OMA (The Netherlands), and L+O Architects (Hong Kong).

The campus, however, is a gigantic gated community with very few, heavily guarded access gates [7]. All around the built up area an incoherent landscape of non-urbanised or poorly urbanised desert areas encircle the campus. Most of the campus' buildings are designed by international star architects, sharply contrasting with the surrounding repetitive cheap urban landscape: in the campus fountains, greenery, and parade routes celebrate the high objectives of Qatar Foundation. Outside, no comparable features can be found. Inhabitants inside and outside the campus have different skills and incomes too: the Education City's scientists, teachers, and managers have salaries that are several times higher than that people living outside the campus (usually South-East and South Asians), although many of the latter work in Education City, as construction workers or janitors [8]. Agatino Rizzo is assistant professor of urban planning and design in the Department of Architecture of the College of Engineering at Qatar University

[1] Bagaeen, S. (2007) Brand Dubai: The Instant City; or the Instantly Recognizable City. International Planning Studies 12(2), pp. 173-197.
[2] Riad, M. (1981) Some aspects of petro-urbanism in the Arab Gulf States. Bulletin of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Qatar University) 4, pp. 7-24.
[3] Adham, K. (2008) Rediscovering the Island: Doha's Urbanity from Pearls to Spectacle. In Elsheshtawy, Y. (Ed.) The Evolving Arab City: Tradition, Modernity and Urban Development. Routledge: UK, pp. 218-256.
[4] Rizzo, A. (2012) Metro Doha. Cities, doi:10.1016/j.cities.2011.11.011
[5] Qataris account for 20% of the total population while South Asians and South East Asians account for 55%; another 20% are Arabs from other MENA countries and 5% are "Others" (this latter a percentage which includes Western expatriates). Source: US State Department 2008.
[6] Rizzo, A. (2012) Ibid.
[7] Rizzo, A. (2012) Ibid.
[8] While a Westerner or western educated professional earns on the average US$ 8-10,000 a South Asian laborer earns on the average US$ 150-300 (Financial Times, 2011: Ibid.; Rizzo, 2012: Ibid.)

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