Construction Week Newsletter 25th September 2004

When a region like the Gulf is growing so fast, both in terms of population and the infrastructure needed to support that population, town planners and the municipal authorities have an exceptional opportunity to lead.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  September 25, 2004

Editorial Leader|~||~||~|

Growing cities responsibly

When a region like the Gulf is growing so fast, both in terms of population and the infrastructure needed to support that population, town planners and the municipal authorities have an exceptional opportunity to lead. In much of the developed world, they have a legal obligation to lay down the rules of development and then enforce those rules. Here in the Gulf, they might have the responsibility and even the backing in law, but they do not always have the power. Building cities is not just about profit. Some buildings may well never make a profit; they exist for other reasons. They are iconic structures; structures that bring business to the region because people will pay money to see them: they are good PR. But these types of buildings are limited in the Gulf. With so much desert out there, there is just not the economic justification to build tall when you can build wide. Building cities is about serving the community for which you build, and, yes, making a profit while you are doing so. There have been several examples in the recent past of developers overturning the planning laws; municipalities building roads, bridges and intersections only to rebuild them two or three years later. There just does not seem to be enough strategic planning in the development process, or at least the planning authorities have not been able to exercise enough power and control over the process. In the Gulf, town planning has to be a co-operative exercise between both the public and private sector. It has got to be a compromise between the desire for profits and a desire to serve the good of the community. Just as individuals are members of society, so also are companies. And just as individuals contribute to society, so too must corporates, even if they are multinationals. In the developed world, many of the major corporations adopt a policy of corporate social responsibility: it is done most notably by the oil companies, which make a great play of advertising their commitment to a green policy, energy research etc. In our region, Dubai has provided some excellent examples of partnership, through projects like Dubailand or Zabeel Park. But much more importantly than the major developments are the different master plans that have been developed for the city, aimed at helping it grow in well-defined areas in co-operation with the private sector. With many developments, government has provided the opportunity and feasible business model for the private sector to exploit, but carefully laid down the ground rules for exploitation, so that what is built within the development conforms to whatever theme or purpose that was originally set out. Most cities in the Gulf are fortunate in that there is a lot of sand and very few historical problems to worry about. But ‘green’ fields represent a challenge as does every blank sheet of paper. It is vitally important that developments fit into, blend with and enhance a city. There should be no carbuncles, as HRH The Prince Of Wales once labeled a new building in London. There should also be no anomalies. In simple terms, a city is a collection of objects, each might be magnificent in its own right, but it should be magnificent as a collection too. It is understandable that individual developers have eyes only for their own projects: that is why you have planning rules. But in an environment in which the planners sometimes have no teeth to enforce those rules, it is very important that the private sector works with the municipal authorities and takes responsibility for the area and the community in which their projects are sited. The major Gulf corporates need to adopt a policy of corporate social responsibility. They need to make sure that they are investing in the community as well as profiting from it. This will not only make their own developments look good, but it will also ensure that the city itself looks more beautiful and is a better place to both live, work and travel. It is a win-win situation for both government, corporates and people.||**||

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