Saudi Arabia must plan carefully for ‘super cities,’ says strategist

The NEOM mega-city is part of plans to transform the Saudi economy. Reuters text, Caption text. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2019

Saudi Arabia must plan carefully for ‘super cities,’ says strategist

  • Author and global strategist Parag Khanna held up Dubai as an example of a city that was making major progress in the drive to ”smart status”
  • In his recent book “Connectography,” he said that research by consultants McKinsey found that the minimum size for a “super city” was 4 million inhabitants

BEIJING: Saudi Arabia has the potential to develop “super cities” in the Kingdom, but must pay careful attention to the economic fundamentals behind such projects, according to global strategist and author Parag Khanna.

Speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing, Khanna told Arab News: “When you are building a city from scratch, you have to be certain of the plan. What is the economic master plan? How self-sustaining will the city be? What will people living there do for a living?”

The Kingdom is planning the mega-city NEOM on the northwest coast, as well as several other developments, under the Vision 2030 strategy to transform the economy.

Khanna, author of the recent book “Connectography,” said that research by consultants McKinsey found that the minimum size for a “super city” was 4 million inhabitants. In Saudi Arabia, only Riyadh had surpassed that figure in a single conurbation.

“The way to make up the difference is to create “smart” cities that will increase connectivity and living standards,” Khanna said. He held up Dubai as an example of a city that was making major progress in the drive to ”smart status,” adding “for the first time in a long time, other Arab cities are looking at another Arab city as a model of the kind of city they would like to live in, rather than a city outside the Arab world.”

Khanna said that he did not know enough about plans for NEOM and other Saudi projects to know whether they would be successful in reaching “super city” status. “I’d have to kick the tires,” he said, pointing to developments along the Red Sea coast like the King Abdullah Economic City and the regeneration of Riyadh as other potentially successful urban projects. 

Super cities are conurbations that drive economic growth and improvement in living standards. “Urbanization has been the single greatest factor in improving the human condition,” Khanna said.

The Arab world and South America have historically been urban dominated, but the drive to city building recently has gathered pace in China and India.

Saudi business chiefs back 2020 budget

Updated 11 December 2019

Saudi business chiefs back 2020 budget

  • 2020 spending plan hailed as a positive driver in boosting country’s economy

RIYADH: Saudi businesses have welcomed spending plans of SR1.02 trillion ($272 billion) next year, announced by King Salman.

The Council of Saudi Chambers praised the efforts of the monarch, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and others in reaching an agreement on the 2020 budget.

The government has predicted revenues of SR833 billion and a deficit of SR187 billion for next year, considered an indicator of the success of the Kingdom’s economic policies amid a bleak global economic backdrop.

Chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers Dr. Sami Abdullah Al-Abaidi said that the Saudi business sector was optimistic about the new spending plans.

“These figures reflect the effective impact of the economic reform measures, the economy’s restructuring and diversification of sources of income,” he added.

Al-Abaidi praised the king and the crown prince for supporting the Saudi economy through numerous projects and initiatives aimed at boosting the business sector.

He said the most notable were business performance improvement initiatives, privatization, private-sector stimulation and local promotion programs.

“This has paved the way for the Kingdom to get the best international classifications, including its first world ranking in business environment reforms, which made it a hub for investments,” Al-Abaidi added.

The business chief reiterated King Salman’s determination to continue implementing reforms, diversifying sources of income, making optimal use of resources, empowering the private sector, and improving transparency and efficiency in government spending to boost growth rates.

“These trends are one of the most important requirements for achieving the Kingdom’s Vision 2030,” he said.

The council’s vice chairman, Muneer bin Saad, said the budget for the new year focused on investing in the human element and sectors that directly affected the lives of citizens, including the development of services.

Saad added the monarch had directed to extend the disbursement of the cost of living allowance until the end of 2020.

Council member Abdullah Al-Odaim said the budget met the expectations of Saudi citizens, and strengthened the confidence of international investors, as figures showed the determination of the state to move forward in its policies to raise the efficiency of government spending.

They also showed increases in non-oil revenues, projected to grow more in light of the improvement of economic activity.

The delegated secretary-general of the Council of Saudi Chambers, Hussain Al-Abdulqader, said the Saudi business sector welcomed the budget which through
its projects and programs would help improve investment opportunities as well as the Saudi economy, ultimately strengthening the Kingdom’s global economic standing.