17 December 2015

Middle East Cities At The Dawn Of A Sustainable Spring? – Lyon, 18th November 2015

a view to foster converging perspectives by gathering both research and business communities, CODATU, in partnership with CNAM Rhône Alpes, organize two hours of discussion from 2-3 expert interventions with different business activities but on a common theme.

On Wednesday 18th November 2015 this discussion session concerned sustainable development in Middle East and it was held in CNAM Rhône Alpes buildings in Lyon. Here below you will find a summary of this meeting introduced by Olivier Marion, CNAM director, and animated by Julien Allaire, CODATU executive manager.

Sustainability in the Middle Eastern cities: paradigm shift or camouflage?

Eric Verdeil, CNRS researcher linked to LATTS (Paris), reminded the results of a research program directed by Pierre-Arnaud Barthel named “La ville durable au Sud de la Méditerranée” that brought to the publication of the dossier Villes arabes, villes durables? in the Urban Environment magazine. These researches focused on actors and consequences of the changings of sustainable urban development concept in urban policies of the Developing Countries of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The challenges of sustainable development in the Middle East must be read depending on the geopolitical situation view that it does not allow defining common criteria for all cities in the region. On one hand, oil countries have the financial resources to let the price-signal not exist and whose motivation may seem limited to the desire to exist as a major metropolises of the world or simply to imitate the capitals of neighbouring countries. Although studies say in 2050 Gulf cities will not be liveable due to excessive temperatures, today these countries can better engage the concept of “sustainable” thanks to their economic capacity. Nevertheless gigantic projects whose sustainability is uncertain are going on.

On the other hand, countries that are not oil exporters and are more populous has different problems. In Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, improving urban mobility facilities is a necessity considering that the development of road infrastructure is the main solution to traffic problems. Authorities develop public transportation projects with a willingness to unclog streets observing applied practices in the richest countries of the region.

Mass Transit in Middle East Cities

The Riyad’s metro, a pharaonic project in the land of the black gold

Didier Boudon, project director at Egis Rail (Lyon), for 16 months boss of the AMO mission performed by Egis (with Louis Berger International) on behalf of AOT Riyadh in order to establish operating and maintenance contracts of construction metro network. Mr Boudon presented the project of the new public transport network including Riyadh metro.

The Saudi capital is a city of about 6 million inhabitants with a dry and hot climate. The city has spread out in the plain and has a relatively low density (of about 9100 inhabitants / km2). This metropolis was urbanized in a very quickly following the American models. Displacements are almost served only by car (especially taxis) and this provokes never-ending traffic jam problems.Except services organized by companies for their employees, there is no public transport.

Within this context, in 2012 King Abdullah has decided to give Riyadh an automatic metro. He has provided a US $ 23 billion budget for a network of 6 lines and 85 stations with 176 km length of infrastructure. The 4 years of work planned will be ending in 2018. Furthermore, a bus network will facilitate access to stations without needing to walk.

Includinig sections on the ground level (30%), tunnel (25%) and viaduct (45%), this underground network will feature prestigious stations (“Iconic Stations”) at the cost of about $ 1 billion each. Remarkable architectural objects, these stations originally would have separated three classes flows planned for the subway: “first” (first class), “single” (one man) and “family” (families with women and children); but the Saudi authorities had to face huge technical difficulties.

In a country where the price of fuel is less than 15 euro cents per liter, a legitimate question is “who will use the subway?”. 10,000 passengers per hour per direction maximum are expected. A very low attendance compared to same size metros and RER (in Paris, between 60 and 100 000 passengers per hour per direction). Other issues are slowly outstanding including the governance and management of the public transport network. Until now the entire project is managed by three people in a whole new transport organizing authority.


What about the micro-operators of public transport in the sustainable mobility paradigm shift?

Eliott Ducharme, CODATU project assistant, has just finished his master’s degree in urban studies at the city-planning institute of Lyon. His work dealt with urban services’ management in Jordan (water and transportation). He presented the issue of the micro-operators of public transport’s regulation within the sustainable mobility policies that were drawn by the municipality of Amman since the 2000s.

To meet the challenges of travel in the city, the Amman Municipality (3,000,000 inhabitants) launched the construction of a 32 km BRT system (Bus Rapid Transit). Largely inspired by the Latin American model systems, this project is part of an urban management policy developed by the municipality since 2000 and it aims to be exemplary in several aspects:
– to conduct an overall review of urban growth and mobility by concentrating on it its skills,;
– to promote an image of a modern and connected capital city by resorting to many international experts, benchmarking and introducing the paradigm of sustainable development.

However, the mobility plan elaborated by the municipality insists widely on mass transit modes and is not taking care of the informal transport operators that are at the best considered as a minor issue; at worst as a damaging sector. The informal transport in Amman, consisting of micro-operators (mainly one operator per vehicle) currently represents the majority of public transit trips. Moreover, the flexibility of the system easily adapt to the population explosion in the capital largely due to the host of refugees fleeing conflict in neighboring countries. In the BRT network development phase of Amman, it therefore becomes crucial to consider the integration and regulation of the activities of these operators in a mobility system is nevertheless essential, even if it is politically risky and potentially requires concessions from the authorities.


Middle East cities are developing mass transit systems responding to different objectives. In a context of very rapid population growth, some address accessibility issues and try to improve population quality of life. Others pursue prestige in order to be part of world’s cities network. Hoping these two reasons to invest overlap in creating more equitable cities.


Most Populated Middle East Cities Map

Most Populated Middle East Cities Density Chart