It’s been four years since the first edition of Jubail City Planning Forum was conducted in 2010 in Jubail Industrial City with the support of the Royal Commission (RC) for Jubail and Yanbu.
The countdown of the second edition has already begun with Ahmed Al-Balawi, chairman of the organizing committee and general manager of technical affairs in the Royal Commission (RC) in Jubail, explaining the need for exchanging experiences and to get exposed to the latest trends and directions on city planning.
“Here comes the second edition of Jubail city planning forum, which will be conducted in February,” Al-Balawi told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“The forum is an opportunity for us to present Jubail as one of the best examples of city planning and to see also the world’s expertise,” he said.
Replying to a question whether the Royal Commission would adopt any of the city planning forum recommendations, Al-Balawi said with an emphatic ‘yes.’
He added: “Yes, if we need we may. As a matter of fact, the RC has adopted a new approach in the planning of city center as well as in the new district of Al-Reggah, which is currently under construction. It is of RC’s standards to make the needed changes within any given criteria and parameters. We have, in fact, received many letters of interests from other cities to participate and show their researches at the conference.”
Of course, the rapid growth in any city causes them to face difficulties, and sharing the concerns and the solutions at such forums has a significant importance to the decision makers, he added.
“We invited speakers from different backgrounds and countries,” he said, adding that 27 experts will speak in 5 sessions of the forum.
Ten of them are international experts visiting the Kingdom for the forum, and 5 international experts work here and will speak about local cases.
There are also 11 local speakers.
Once people come and attend the conference, they will present their experiences and their ideas and see what the latest trends in planning are, Al-Balawi said.
“There are major countries and institutions who forecast what you need to cater for in the future. The conference will be a good platform for dialogue between all the decision makers and technical people and also at the same time with the private investors. It’s a good exchange of experience and also networking,” Al-Balawi added.
“When talking about city planning, we are talking about a topic that doesn’t change much. However, the content becomes different,” Al-Balawi added.
“These topics address the economic dimensions and sustainability, urban design, city centers development, transportation planning, technology applications in planning and the role of the private sector’ So, the topic doesn’t change much but the content within these topics may change. We are going to see a lot of new changes, in this conference. There is going to be some focus on certain city centers as the RC has recently planned a new city center in Jubail,” he said.
Speaking about the RC’s future projects in Jubail, he said the RC is making rapid progress.
“We have almost completed Jubail 2 development and we have received interest from investors in getting lands and this has put some pressure on the residential areas development,” he said.
Currently, he said: “We are in the final stage of completing the Jalmoudah residential district. Land has been allocated to all beneficiaries from industries and they are working very hard to build houses for their employees. Work is also on track at the new Al-Matrafiah residential district and in Mardumah.”
Al-Balawi said each of these districts would have an average population of 50,000 and an average of 8,000 to 10,000 units.
“We are in a very advance stage of development for Al-Matraifiah. We have already allocated land for companies such as Saudi Aramco, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), Maaden and Al-Sahra, and other industries have started developing their units,” Al-Balawi said.
“For the last 35 years we have developed only two districts (Al-Fanateer and Al-Deffi) so this can give an idea about the magnitude of work within the RC,” he added.
In addition, RC has started the planning of the fourth district (Al-Reggah).
“The demand that we forecast for the units between now and 2030 is 30,000 units and it will double up what we have now, the population is forecasted to reach 300,000,” Al-Balawi said.
Asked whether the development and units are built jointly by the RC and the investors, he said: “We have different combination of scenarios. We have areas where we have developed their infrastructures and there are areas we have provided primary facilities for the industries, and we are using different modules to successfully speed up the development of the housing units.”
About the RC’s experience in regards to city planning and maintaining the architectural identity of the city, Al-Balawi said: “Since the RC started some 30 years ago, they had followed the latest trends in planning and they collaborated with internationally experienced consultants to come up with the planning that was mainly based on green and sustainable city approach (eco-city) — cities that respond to the demand of the population of the industries with minimum impact on the environment.
“The RC used specific planning methods for that and reflected the latest architectural trends and identity, and that is why we see Jubail is different from other cities. All these were reflected in the City Master Plan consisting of all the 11 volumes that have set our city vision and mission,” he said.
Speaking of identity, it is very important and “that’s why we are working now to create with the new development of the new city center because when somebody hears about Jubail they think it’s all about industries so the new city center will change this image and identity for something so that people will have a sense of belonging when they come to visit or live in Jubail Industrial City,” Al-Balawi said.
He added: “50 percent of investments in Jubail are international so it has a lot of international investors either investing directly or joining with major players such as SABIC and Saudi Aramco and from Europe, Japan and the US.
According to him, Jubail is a good Saudi model for providing infrastructure and a good platform for investment. Also, most of the government agencies send their delegates to Jubail for both study and business.
Asked why no Saudi city tries to follow the examples of Jubail and Yanbu with regard to planning and infrastructure, Al-Balawi said: “Well, the RC cities have their special identity trying to promote industry and petrochemicals. Jubail has its own potential with economic dependence mainly on heavy industries in which international companies are interested. Other cities need to build their own potential either by promoting tourism or trade, or any other interests they have.
Regarding the city’s future entertaining projects, Al-Balawi said: “We have a major marina development project in Dareen district, which is under construction by Al-Ghanim, a Kuwaiti investment company. Also, we have two hotel projects that will soon start construction — one in Dareen and one in Al-Fanateer area.”
Following the development in Jalmoudah, Al-Balawi said: “We announced recently that many investment opportunities exist in our projects which are both commercial and mix use properties. So, we are going to provide a lot of opportunities for private businesses because once we develop the districts they need many commercial services.”
When developing districts, the RC upgrades all facilities and services related to schools or social services like mosques, malls, sport centers, and medical clinics for all districts. So, all these are automatically done as part of the development.
Al-Balawi said the Jubail RC has followed a unique planning philosophy in its new housing neighborhoods, which is based on the latest international planning trends in the world starting with selecting the appropriate location away from the industrial area, placing a buffer area for it and redirecting the houses to be opposite to the prevailing wind.
The design is based on creating extended green spaces and the gradual provision of essential services to these neighborhoods.
The design also relates to building housing blocks that depend on the separation of traffic from pedestrians as much as possible, which strives to achieve principles of sustainability in urban design and take advantage of the ancient Islamic architecture by employing its ideas and patterns in architecture.
On the functional side, the RC was keen on the residential area being built on a solid foundation of complete infrastructure, where beneath these neighborhoods there is another harmonious beautiful city consisting of services’ corridors that were carefully crafted according to the best international standards.
All these are meant to ensure that the residents enjoy an integrated urban environment that fulfills all their wishes and needs.
“We hope this forum will give all the participants and all attendees a good opportunity to see what other people are doing, and to exchange experiences and carry some of them back home,” Al-Balawi added.