Two centuries ago, 3 percent of the world’s population lived in cities. Today more than half the world’s people have settled in urban centers and by 2030 that figure will rise to more than 60 percent.
Despite this, cities all over the world are failing to address many human needs. Cities crystallize the tensions of the modern world and exacerbate the conflicts of a changing society.
In my book “Riyadh a Paradigm: Enhancing the Human Dimension in Saudi Municipal Work,” I write that “the sheer absence of the human dimension in urban development constitutes a major dilemma in modern cities.”
The book shares my vision for the humanization of Riyadh based on my experiences as mayor of the city from 1997-2012 — a vision based on stronger bonds between the capital’s citizens and its administrators.
The Saudi capital has 6 million inhabitants and it is one of the biggest desert cities in the world.
From a traditional center that encouraged integration, Riyadh has grown into a modern metropolis — a hub of consumption with shopping malls and skyscrapers — while still holding on to its roots.
“Riyadh a Paradigm” explores the rehabilitation and creation of public spaces.
Sidewalks, parks, squares and traditional markets enhance human happiness; they provide an “urban space where individuals fulfill their personal pursuits and the community establishes its social identity.”
The book also calls for more jobs for women in the city; for pedestrian paths and public parks to encourage people to walk and exercise in public; and for Eid celebrations and festivals to help people connect, and remember their history and traditions.
What makes a city exciting is the diversity of potential exchanges between people. It is not the skyline that lends character to a city but rather its human spaces.
One can only hope that Riyadh’s administrators and its people will pursue a successful collaboration to shape initiatives that encourage urban well-being and celebrate the capital’s unique strengths.
• Prince Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed bin Ayyaf is vice chairman of the board of directors of the Riyadh Science Foundation, and chairman of the board of trustees at Prince Sultan University and King Salman Center for Local Governance. He was mayor of Riyadh from 1997-2012.