Saudi Arabia must plan carefully for ‘super cities,’ says strategist

The NEOM mega-city is part of plans to transform the Saudi economy. Reuters text, Caption text. (Reuters)
Updated 22 November 2019

Saudi Arabia must plan carefully for ‘super cities,’ says strategist

  • Author and global strategist Parag Khanna held up Dubai as an example of a city that was making major progress in the drive to ”smart status”
  • In his recent book “Connectography,” he said that research by consultants McKinsey found that the minimum size for a “super city” was 4 million inhabitants

BEIJING: Saudi Arabia has the potential to develop “super cities” in the Kingdom, but must pay careful attention to the economic fundamentals behind such projects, according to global strategist and author Parag Khanna.

Speaking at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Beijing, Khanna told Arab News: “When you are building a city from scratch, you have to be certain of the plan. What is the economic master plan? How self-sustaining will the city be? What will people living there do for a living?”

The Kingdom is planning the mega-city NEOM on the northwest coast, as well as several other developments, under the Vision 2030 strategy to transform the economy.

Khanna, author of the recent book “Connectography,” said that research by consultants McKinsey found that the minimum size for a “super city” was 4 million inhabitants. In Saudi Arabia, only Riyadh had surpassed that figure in a single conurbation.

“The way to make up the difference is to create “smart” cities that will increase connectivity and living standards,” Khanna said. He held up Dubai as an example of a city that was making major progress in the drive to ”smart status,” adding “for the first time in a long time, other Arab cities are looking at another Arab city as a model of the kind of city they would like to live in, rather than a city outside the Arab world.”

Khanna said that he did not know enough about plans for NEOM and other Saudi projects to know whether they would be successful in reaching “super city” status. “I’d have to kick the tires,” he said, pointing to developments along the Red Sea coast like the King Abdullah Economic City and the regeneration of Riyadh as other potentially successful urban projects. 

Super cities are conurbations that drive economic growth and improvement in living standards. “Urbanization has been the single greatest factor in improving the human condition,” Khanna said.

The Arab world and South America have historically been urban dominated, but the drive to city building recently has gathered pace in China and India.


G7 backs extension of G20 debt freeze, calls for reforms 

Updated 25 September 2020

G7 backs extension of G20 debt freeze, calls for reforms 

  • Group of Seven ‘strongly regret’ moves by some countries to skip participation in debt relief for world’s poorest nations

WASHINGTON: G7 finance ministers on Friday backed an extension of a G20 bilateral debt relief initiative for the world’s poorest countries, but said it must be revised to address shortcomings hindering its implementation.

In a lengthy joint statement, the ministers from the Group of Seven advanced economies said that they “strongly regret” moves by some countries to skip participation by classifying their state-owned institutions as commercial lenders.

Two officials from G7 countries said the reference was clearly targeted at China, which has refused to include loans by the state-owned China Development Bank and other government-controlled entities in its official bilateral debt totals when dealing with countries seeking debt relief.

The ministers also acknowledged that some countries will need further debt relief going forward, and urged the Group of 20 major economies and Paris Club creditors to agree on terms by next month’s meeting of G20 finance ministers.

“Everyone was disappointed by China’s lack of transparency and commitment,” said one official, who asked not to be named.

At an online meeting hosted by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the ministers underscored their commitment to work together to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries, which have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

They asked the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to provide regular updates on the financing needs of low-income countries and propose solutions for expected financing gaps, including through instruments to leverage access to private finance.

They said the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) approved in April by G20 countries, including China, had helped 43 countries defer $5 billion in official debt service payments to free up money to respond to the pandemic.

But the total is far short of the $12 billion in savings that were initially projected, and represents just over half of the 70-plus countries that were eligible.

The ministers said the initiative should be extended, “in the context of a request for IMF financing,” and called for a new term sheet and memorandum of understanding to improve its implementation.

The ministers said claims classified as commercial under DSSI would also be treated as such in future debt treatments and for implementation of IMF policies, delivering a stern reminder to China and others that have not been fully transparent about the scope and terms of government lending to poor countries.

The ministers also called again on private lenders to implement the debt relief initiative when requested, noting that the absence of private sector participation has limited the potential benefits for several countries.