Is Urjuan a Wise Expenditure of Qatar's Oil and Gas Wealth?

Urjuan qatar beachThe Urjuan City Development is a Symbol of Qatar’s Rapid Economic Growth

In February we wrote about the memorandum signed by Qatar and Iran, which solidifies their mutual commitment to preserve the environment.   We also wrote about an exciting conservation effort to protect Qatar’s animal and plant populations.  With the third highest natural gas reserve in the world, and an impressive petroleum supply, we applaud when Qatar leverages its economic strength in support of environmental initiatives.  However, the next in a chain of building and design profiles, which ascertain the existing and potential impact on the Middle East’s environment, demonstrates that Qatar’s environmental policies are not always consistent. Urjuan in Al Khor, Qatar, was officially launched late 2008 and is expected to be completed in 2013.

Urjuan qatar beach

Designed by Canadian Consult Maunsell, Urjuan is a “modern city” or “integrated city development” that was named after a local plant from which an ancient, royal purple dye is extracted.  It will cost $10 billion to build and will be developed over 5.5million sq m.  According to Barwa al Khor, the project developer that is a subsidiary of Barwa Real Estate, the city will include a mosque in addition to 2 “sprawling hotels”, a shopping mall, 4 “top schools”, 250,000sq m office space, and 24,500 housing units.

All this will straddle the Persian Gulf roughly 50km north of Doha.  With private chalets, terraced townhouses, luxurious apartments, and an international golf course, the Urjuan city complex is the very picture of opulence.  This should surprise readers since Qatar is slightly smaller than Connecticut and comprises flat, barren land, of which only 1.64% is arable and the country already relies on desalination plants given its shortage of freshwater supplies.  Nonetheless, the Chairman and Managing Director of Barwa Real Estate says that their vision of the Al Khor region is “…inspired by the heritage of a culturally-rich metropolis, which will offer investors unique investment opportunities and at the same time creates an architectural marvel making Urjuan a top destination.”

Urjuan qatar beach

Apart from occasionally dropping the catch phrase “self-sustaining,” no evidence suggests that developers see beyond the glittering black gold or that they are committed to genuine sustainability.  According to The Institute for Sustainable Cities, a sustainable city takes three important factors into consideration:  Economy, Ecology, and Equity.  It is important that economic activity “should serve the common good, be self-renewing, and build local assets and self-reliance.”  Furthermore, “humans are part of nature, nature has limits, and communities are responsible for protecting and building natural assets.”  Finally, when building or planning a city, it is important to ensure that all citizens will have the opportunity to “participate in all activities, benefits, and decision-making of a society.”

Urjuan qatar beach

Oil and gas are finite resources, so the 63,000 residents of Urjuan might initially enjoy a heaping serving of luxury, but it will run out eventually; and when it does, ensuring basic goods and services to said residents will be deeply challenging.   Thankfully, it’s not too late to put mechanisms in place that will ensure the overall health of this emergent Gulf city.

More on green building:
The Best Way to Keep Buildings Green is Not to Build New Ones
Hassan Fathy is The Middle East’s Father of Sustainable Architecture
Energy City Qatar on Target for 2012

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