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Exodus to urban areas does not augur well for Saudi heritage

Modern life and progress could be driving Saudis away from their identity. This was stated in a recent paper published by a German scholar on the Kingdom’s growing urbanization.
In her paper, Professor Ulrike Freitag warns about the disenfranchisement of Saudis with their local identity because of their preference for a more urban lifestyle. The academic is well acquainted with the Saudi situation, as she is a lecturer and professor at Berlin’s Center for Modern Oriental Studies.
Freitag, who teaches Islamic studies, explained her views to an audience at an event organized by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) and Dar Al-Hekma University. The symposium revolved about heritage, traditions and arts and was held at Al-Akkas heritage village in Abha.
Expressing her appreciation for the authorities’ efforts in keeping the flames of traditional arts alive, Freitag highlighted recent statistics according to which 88 percent of Saudis will be living in cities by 2050. The German scholar lamented these grim numbers, as in her view moving away from traditional Saudi dwellings could lead to a loss of identity.
Freitag stressed the importance of the Saudi people’s role to preserve their traditions and history. According to the academic, it is even more critical that Saudi citizens get involved to preserve their heritage than the authorities themselves. Residents can play an invaluable role in assuming responsibility to rehabilitate and develop buildings as venues for celebrations, tourism or even for educational purposes, she said.
Freitag lauded Saudi Arabia’s numerous provinces and locations that enhance and strengthen the country’s national identity. “The homeland as a whole benefits from the different values and experiences in each city or region,” she explained.
Freitag’s country was one of the top nations in the world to have heritage buildings razed to the ground. However, according to the scholar, Germany stepped up efforts in the past 30 or 40 years to renovate and develop old buildings, such as the ancient Berlin castle.
German architect Andreas Lipik also stressed during the event that global architecture has deviated from its real goal of serving the community in favor of a more glamorous approach to design.
“Small buildings may change the society’s perspective on architecture, as they have a huge value on so many levels,” Lipik said, praising the initiative of Dar Al-Hekma University students for choosing Asir, one of the most traditional places in the Kingdom.

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