dcsimg Transforming modern Arab Cities - Ramboll Group

Transforming modern Arab Cities

Between 1970 and 2010, urban populations in the Arab region have more than quadrupled. The resulting water scarcity and large pollution problems are now affecting the environment and quality of life of citizens. Action is imperative and masterplanning to address overall city structure offers an efficient means of reversing this trend.

Saudi Arabia has realised the urgency of tackling urban challenges, and authorities have selected the city of Jeddah as the focus of a large-scale effort to improve its 3.5 million inhabitants’ quality of life and make the city more liveable. This demonstration project will provide a blueprint that other Saudi cities will eventually be able to follow.

Planning for a better future

Ramboll has been hired to create the masterplan that will ensure the future sustainable development of the 4,600-km2 city of Jeddah. The project, initiated in the late summer of 2012 and finalised at the end of 2013, involved expertise from 15 different disciplines, including air, water and waste. Ramboll assessed and evaluated countless environmental and social factors over the course of the project, and drew up a masterplan describing the most efficient ways of dealing with them.

“We have valuable experience from the Nordics and from assisting European states when preparing them for entrance into the European Union. We are building on these experiences when dealing with the challenges in the Arab region. The basic problems are the same here”, says Neel Strøbæk, Group Market Director in Ramboll, Environment.

Street in Jeddah

An environmental challenge

The quality of the environment in Jeddah is severely degraded and specifically detrimental are the air conditions including noise, pollution, and emission levels. The water quality is poor and waste-management issues have led to city-wide litter problems and increased associated health issues. The 'Liveability' of Jeddah has - as evidenced by the poor quality of urban public space, and the resultant lack of sense of place and belonging - in turn resulted in a degraded public realm state for the entire city.

The cost of inaction

In order to create awareness and as a baseline for future improvements, Ramboll have calculated the cost of doing nothing. This so-called cost of environmental degradation study shows that the cost of no action will reach a staggering 2-4% of total GDP in Jeddah, a total of EUR 1 billion-2 billion annually.

Neel Strøbæk explains:

“Using this figure as a basis, we can demonstrate that it is wise to invest in environmental improvement and also show the urgency of taking action. By combining the baseline with cost-benefit analyses of the initiatives we are proposing, the authorities can prioritise main action areas.”

The Modern Arab City starts with its people

Ramboll's goal is to transform Jeddah into a model for environmental and social improvement for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In order to succeed, public understanding and the creation of a feeling of ownership is essential:

"Environmental awareness through public outreach is a top priority; we want to establish trusting relationships, not only with stakeholders and decision-makers, but also initiate 'buy-in' from the people of Jeddah. Improving the ‘hard infrastructure’ conditions of air, water, and waste management is vital. But it is equally important to enhance the ‘soft infrastructure’ or the quality of life within the public realm, the spaces in the city that affect Jeddah’s residents on a daily basis,” explains Jeremy Anterola , Landscape Architect from Atelier Dreiseitl, now part of Ramboll.

In 2013 Ramboll acquired Atelier Dreiseitl, a world leading consultancy within sustainable ‘Liveable City’ planning and design:

Working across multiple business units, we became involved in the Jeddah project primarily in the  ‘Green and Liveable’ response plan. The response plan is one of four targeting the key problems of Jeddah - namely Air, Water, and Waste, and Green & Liveable conditions of the city. A primary aim of the response plans was the creation of ‘Pilot Projects’ targeting high priority areas. “Pilot project implementation provides a visible connection for people to see the benefits of an Environmental and Social Masterplan. It makes tangible the challenging, multi-disciplinary effort required to move and change Jeddah into a model of liveability for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," says Jeremy Anterola.

Neel Strøbæk elaborates:

"Atelier Dreiseitl's international experience as world leaders in the field of 'Liveable Cities' combined with their track record of implementing concepts as built projects worldwide provided the visionary direction to specific 'Pilot Projects' as trial examples of the effects of environmental improvement on quality of life improvements in Jeddah".

From plan to action

The biggest challenge in Jeddah will be to implement the masterplan and the proposed initiatives.
“Protecting the environment used to be viewed as a luxury, a nice-to-have thing, but this view is changing. However, it requires that the Environmental Authorities are equipped to enforce regulations,” Neel Strøbæk explains.

Ramboll’s studies show that the Saudi Arabian Environmental legislation has all the laws, bylaws and regulations in place already; they simply lack the institutional strength and capacity to enforce them. The harsh truth of the cost of environmental degradation study is the key to obtaining that power.

Seeing the results

Awareness-raising and outreach are also essential to project success. Ramboll has recommended using a combination of traditional awareness campaigns and introducing pilot demonstration areas to show the impact of the proposed initiatives. According to Neel Strøbæk, being involved in projects like these is highly rewarding:

“One thing is to prepare a masterplan, another is its successful implementation. At Ramboll, we would like to see the Jeddah plans succeed in real life, experience their ultimate effects on the city, the environment and inhabitants. We are therefore committed to ensuring that Jeddah becomes a more sustainable and liveable city for citizens, businesses
and visitors.”


Neel Strøbæk
Neel Strøbæk
Senior Group Director, Sustainability & CR, Planning & Urban Design
T+45 5161 8641
Jeremy Anterola
Landscape Architect
T+49 (7551) 92 8826