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'Jeddah has the potential to become a Knowledge City'

27 July 2010
JEDDAH - The Kingdom has recently embarked upon aggressive projects in its bid to repatriate capital and attract value-added foreign investments. King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, launched the first of its kind and the third economic city in the Kingdom in Madina in June 2006 as a part of the move to develop the Kingdom's regions in a high-tech manner.

The city of Jeddah, the Bride of the Red Sea and the gateway to the Two Holy Mosques, also has the potential to become a Knowledge City (KC), one in which the economy is driven by research, technology and brainpower, according to Dr. Amro A. Taibah, Dean of the Faculty of Environmental Design (FED) at King Abdulaziz University here.

"The issue is to target a knowledge-based development, by encouraging the continuous creation, sharing, evaluation, renewal and update of knowledge," Dr. Taibah told Saudi Gazette.

In the same vein, Dr. Khaled A. Youssef, assistant professor at FED, explained that currently there are 65 urban development programs worldwide formally designated as knowledge cities. These cities have common features and they could become full-fledged knowledge cities if certain conditions are met.

Among these features are the political and social will, strategic vision and development plan, financial support and strong investments, agencies to promote knowledge-based development, international, multi-ethnic character of the city, creation of urban innovation engines, low-cost access to advanced communication networks, research excellence and existence of a public libraries network.

"Jeddah is one of the major seaports in the Kingdom and also a gateway to Makkah and Madina," Dr. Taibah told Saudi Gazette. "And it has economic, geographic, knowledge and cultural potentials to become a knowledge city," he added.

"To explore its capabilities to become a knowledge city," he added, "FED has established an open design studio out of three specializations; urban and regional planning, architecture and landscape architecture".

Dr. Taibah explained that "the open studio managed to sketch future visions of how Jeddah can be a knowledge city, providing detailed urban, architecture and landscape projects that would foster achieving the addressed objectives". He added that "about 25 international and regional related case studies are being analyzed; e.g. Manchester, Helsinki, Barcelona, Melbourne and Dublin, to help students achieve the aim of the studio".

Dr. Youssef said that "students are asked to comparatively analyze these case studies in the light of their local contexts".

The concept of knowledge cities is complex, Dr. Taibah said. "But the students managed to draw creative visions based on a detailed SWOT analysis of the seven foundations of knowledge cities in Jeddah".

One of these visions, he added, aims at developing the city by spreading the existing knowledge, cultural and economic facilities, and creating innovative economic, cultural and knowledge hubs in certain locations of the city. Another vision, he continued, is targeting the integration of the capabilities of Jeddah, Yanbu and KAUST within one proposal; adopting the concept of knowledge cities at a regional scale. According to this vision, the research capabilities of KAUST and the industrial capabilities of Yanbu are integrated to support the economic and knowledge bases in Jeddah according to two proposed knowledge cycles.

Upon completion of the project, the studio participated in the GCC Municipalities and Towns Development Global Competitiveness Conference in Dubai in which the transformation of Jeddah into a Knowledge City was discussed. In his presentation at the conference, Dr. Youssef explained that the studio can be thought of as a brainstorming arena where KC definitions, basic concepts, case studies, visions and arguments are worked out.

"We have reached a fairly advanced level, and the projects of the Open Studio will be presented in an exhibition in the Knowledge Cities World Summit to be held in Melbourne, Australia in November 2010," he said.

Dr. Taibah stressed that one of the most important elements in developing a community is creativity. "If you look at most of the societies that claim to be making progress in developing Knowledge Cities, you will find that the most sensitive and significant elements of their plans are fostering creativity and broadening the societies' base of innovative human capital."

"The basic concept in a Knowledge City is that it is sustainable," he said. "Unless the economic cycle is sustainable, the city will lose its momentum and its economic value. It has to be continuously renewable. The concept of the Knowledge City is dependent on an agile economy that is able to shift whenever needed to respond to the ever changing global requirements."

Asked whether there were any special characteristics that distinguish Knowledge Cities from other cities and if architectural identity matters. Dr. Taibah said that "to be a Knowledge City, one of the main criteria is sustainability and if a city is unable to sustain its identity and culture, I doubt if it will be able to sustain its economy or anything else".

"When we began to look at case studies, we quickly realized that a Knowledge City looked like any other city. There is no city that you can merely look at and say that it is a Knowledge City. But the Knowledge Cities open design studio will continue its quest to investigate how the built environment can stimulate creativity and innovation in any community as the most crucial foundation for any Knowledge City."

By Jassem Alghamdi

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© The Saudi Gazette 2010

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