By: Julien Hawari and Hadi Khatib
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has made a reputation for itself not only to mammoth mega projects but to also think mega.
Examples abound: King Abdallah Financial District ($7.8bn), Riyadh Metro ($22.5bn), NEOM ($500 bn), Qiddiya Entertainment City ($8bn infrastructure cost alone and is 2.5x the size of Walt Disney, Orlando Florida) and not to forget world’s tallest tower, when completed, the Jeddah Tower ($1.5-$2bn).
So, it came to no one’s surprise that the Saudi capital city Riyadh decided to embark on its next mega development worth $23bn, headlining with four separate but connected urban planning projects.
An urban master plan
During the second week in November 2019, the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (RCRC), launched a 2-day symposium to set out the next chapter in Riyadh’s development as a sustainable city. The projects complement Saudi Vision 2030’s ‘Quality of Life’ Program and focus on UN SDGs.
The two-day ‘Riyadh: The Sustainable City’ Symposium focused on four of the capital’s most ambitious projects: King Salman Park (www.riyadhksp.sa/en/); Sports Boulevard (www.riyadhalmasar.sa/en/), Green Riyadh (www.riyadhgreen.sa/en/) and Riyadh Art (www.riyadhart.sa/en/).
With a population of 7 million and a surface of 1800 square km, Riyadh is a big city. To help put things in context, New York with 8.4 million residents has a surface of 780 sqkm, and Paris with a population of 2.2 million has a surface of 105 sqkm.
And Riyadh, has a dominant desert landscape with little green areas to show for, representing only 1.5% of its surface.
The aim of the Riyadh Royal Commission is to increase the green area to 9% of its total urban surface and cover over 540 km2 when completed. The project will increase the per capita share of green areas from 1.7 m2 to 28 m2, 16 times its current amount. It plans to plant close to 7.5 million trees, build a massive park four time the size of Central Park in New York, where green areas and open spaces extend over 9.3 million m2.
The mega development comprises four projects: King Salman Park, Al Masar Sports Boulevard, Riyadh Art and Green Riyadh.
The ambitious program aims to pull in the private sector with various PPP schemes, leveraging private and public involvement in transforming the city. The various projects began construction in H2 2019 and are phased for most to finish by 2023-2024 while Green Riyadh is set for a 2030 completion date.
If the recent transformation of Saudi Arabia is an indicator, the mega project has the potential to not only to transform the environment and sustainability of the Saudi capital but also to support the social transformation that has been under way.
While the past 2 years were headlined by Saudi Women being able to drive, attend sports and entertainment events, travel and participate more effectively in public policy making, 2019 is bringing a new genre of social liberalization. With this unique development, Saudi and Riyadh are adding cultural, artistic, entertainment, sports and leisure aspects to unpreceded levels, never before seen at such scale, and focus.
King Salman Park
Adorned with various gardens totaling 400,000 m2, King Salman Park is embraced by a 7.2 km circular walking trail, and an 800,000 m2 valley area with water and aquatic elements covering 300,000 m2.
In it will reside the Royal Arts Complex, covering over 400,000 m2, complete with a 2500 seating capacity National Theater, open-air theater for 8,000 spectators, 3-screen cinema and 4 arts academies, not to mention 7 museums.
Play golf at the Royal Golf Green with an area of 850,000 m2 or exercise at a 50,000 m2 sports complex. In fact, recreational and playground facilities stretch over 100,000 m2, with a 140,000 m2 aquatic park area.
Of course, you can live there in building complexes totaling 1.6 million m2 and 12,000 housing units.
16 hotels covering a total area of 194,000 m2, offering 2,300 beds allow visitors to enjoy the park while savoring local hospitality and retail offerings covering more than 500,000 m2 dedicated to restaurants, cafés and retail shops.
The park enjoys easy access to the Riyadh metro.
Al Masar is a 135 km of cycling path that goes through the city to reach the outskirts of Riyadh, mixing sports facilities, wellness, entertainment and retail.
It also includes 123 km of horse riding trails, all strewn .with safe and wooded walking trails, 3.5 million m2 of green areas and open spaces, stops and rest areas for bikers, and including bike repair sites, cafés, and stores for both hikers and sports enthusiasts.
The Riyadh Art projects aims to take arts to the city by rolling out an interactive public arts program that kooks to curate 1,000 pieces and other works of art and host an annual art festival. It will be the biggest art undertaking the region has known and attract talent from near and far.
Green Riyadh is a citywide greening initiative which includes the planting of 7.5 million trees targeting public parks, mosques, schools, parking areas, government buildings, health facilities, universities and public roads. The project will help to lower the temperature of the city by 2°C and provide welcome shade, allowing residents to walk and exercise outside.