A New Saudi Arabia Rises Out of the Desert

An under-20 population of more than 13 million and an eagerness to move the national economy away from oil production have the Saudi government investing heavily in huge new cities that are designed to encourage a 'Western-style modernity.'
December 13, 2010, 2pm PST | Emily Laetz
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New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff details how the tensions between a more traditional way of life in Saudi Arabia and the new economic ambitions of the Saudi government are becoming manifest in the built environment as the nation experiments with open, Western-influenced urban forms and lifestyles. The Saudi government expects construction on four new cities similar to King Abdullah Economic City, a 65-square-mile project at the edge of the Red Sea, to be completed by 2030.

According to Ouroussoff, "The idea is to create islands from which change would seep out, drop by drop, without antagonizing powerful conservative forces within the country."

"If the plan works, at best it would transform Saudi Arabia into a technologically advanced society controlled by a slightly more tolerant religious autocracy. Or it could provoke militant violence and government crackdowns."

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Published on Sunday, December 12, 2010 in The New York Times
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