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Volume :16 Issue : 63 1990      Add To Cart                                                                    Download


Auther : Dr. Mohammad M. Saryani


         In this paper we examine the history of urbanization in Saudi Arabia from 1902 onward in an attempt to lay out a historical / theoretical framework by means of which:

 a.     certain historical periods can be identified which are most likely to have given rise to changes in urban functions or urban position in regional organization.

 b.     once such changes have been identified and documented, they may be incorporated into an overall historical paradigm.

         The factors that affect the regional urbanization of the country can be categorized as being either (a) economic (b) socio-cultural or (c) political.

         The most obvious example of an economic factor, which has affected urbanization, is the all-encompassing oil-induced transformation from a traditional to an industrial-based economy over a period of a few years.  This is an event, which has affected all urban areas in the Kingdom.  But it has affected them differently according to the other two types of factors (socio-cultural and political).  This has entailed an almost incredible increase in population over the past fifty years.

       The historical periods of urbanization might be defined as follows:

 1.     The Early period of national consolidation (1902–1938).

 2.     The period of early oil economy (1939–1969).

 3.     The period of an emerging nationally planned economy (1970-1990).

         The early period of national consolidation began with the return of Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud from exile in Kuwait.  During this period a determined efforts was made by Riyadh to bring all the provinces of the Arabian Peninsula into its sphere of influence.  The intention of Ibn Saud was to mould a modern nation-state from the diverse regions of the Arabian Peninsula.  It took him over 30 years before the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established.

        During this period the level of urbanization was almost 10 per cent.  Most of the urban places were small towns surrounded by wall with 3–4 gates leading to the center of the city which embraces the mosque, the Bazaar and the government quarters.

       The residential quarters cover most of the area of the city.  The access to these residential quarters is provided by the main roads leading to the wall gates.  There is an irregular plan of the quarters of the Saudi cities with narrow and twisted streets and many sharp turns and dead-end lanes, which are common in all the Middle Eastern cities.  Most of the cities have no public utilities and lack most of the necessary services.

        The period of the early oil economy began when oil was discovered in the Kingdom in commercial quantities in 1938.  The subsequent thirty years saw a tremendous economic and demographic reorganization in the Kingdom.

         In this period the urban centers showed a tremendous growth motivated and modulated by raw economic forces. New towns emerged and the old town flourished and developed.  The level of urbanization jumped up to 24% of the total population.  The major cities began to acquire great economic importance, which attracted foreign and local investors.  Many industrial projects were undertaken, such as the establishment of oil refineries, gas purification plants, pumping stations, oil pipelines, infrastructure projects, road networks and public utility projects.  This led to an extensive migration to all the Saudi cities from inside and outside the Kingdom, which caused the growth of some villages into major cities in less than 40 years.

        By 1970 the Kingdom’s administrative structure had developed to the extent that it was possible to put forward the first of a succession of national five-year plans intended to guide the overall development process in such a way as to best fulfill the Kingdom’s broadcast-based and long-range needs.  In this period a conscious attempt was made to distribute and control development by planning the growth of various economic sectors.

        In the period of national planning, which is still in its infancy, tremendous efforts have been made to build a strong industrial base to restrict urbanization in agricultural areas and to adopt master plans consistent with the national growth policy in major metropolitan areas.

        With the increase of the Kingdom’s resources, efforts have been oriented towards the development of urban and rural areas and their provision with the necessary public services and utilities along with all the other cultural facilities.  Cities and towns have extended and grown in a dramatic manner.  This can be obviously seen in various cities of the Kingdom, such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Khobar, Makkah and Madina.  Small town began also to acquire an important status as major industrial centers in the Kingdom such as the cities of Jubain and Yanbu.

        In 1987 there were some 40 cities of 20,000 people and thirteen of which had more than 100,000 people.  The level of urbanization is about 65% of the total population and the annual city growth is around nine percent.

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Dec 26, 2021

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