Planning Visions and Re-Visions: Understanding Doha as a Fractal City.
Many cities around the world are struggling to regain their vibrancy after losing it due to economic decline, urbanization decay and population migration. On the other hand, current vibrant cities are experiencing rapid urbanization and transformation in an unprecedented way due to substantial economic, technological and construction activities. Doha, the capital of Qatar, is experiencing this type of rapid change instigated by ambitious development visions, hosting of mega events and the construction of mega projects. This rapid urbanization required changing planning visions frequently to accommodate changing needs and requirements. This condition resulted in difficulties of adhering to a master plan to direct growth and urbanization in a coherent way. As planning visions are subject to frequent re-visions, traditional planning practices proved ineffective in coping and responding to the needs of this contemporary vibrant city.
The impact of this frequent planning visions and re-visions on the spatial transformation can be undertood following the theoretical framework proposed by Soja for understanding cities as a postmetropolis phenomenon (Soja, 2000). The resulting environment in Doha has produced, to use Soja’s term, a “fractal city”. According to Soja, the fractal city is one of the six discourses of postmetropolis, “the new urbanization processes that have been restructuring the modern metropolis over the past thirty years.” (Soja, 2000) The experience of the city of Doha is shared with many other cities in Asia and the Fear East; and especially with other Arabian Gulf region cities that include: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Manama and Kuwait.
Today, Doha’s residents experience the city as a gigantic construction site extending horizontally and vertically in all directions. Construction of roads, bridges, towers, parks, shopping centers, stadiums and public buildings is unparalleled. Due to continuous economic prosperity, generated by oil and gas revenues, since the middle of the 20th century, the city is eager to become a globally recognized and internationally renowned city competing with other regional cities. Transformation of the urban environment taking place in Doha in an unprecedented way is the result of instant economic wealth, incomplete planning initiatives, rapid urbanization, population change, mega events and socio-cultural reasons. The announcement of Doha’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2022 resulted in numerous infrastructure projects, roads, stadiums, hotels, and other projects needed in order to accommodate the new requirements of the event. Qatar has a long history with subsequent master plans that are not fully implemented. After a period of unplanned development after the discovery of oil during the 1940’s, master planning initiatives started in the 1972 with the first master plan developed by Llewellyn-Davis and has continued during the past forty years by subsequent master plans developed by British, American, Arab and Japanese planners. None of these master plans was fully implemented or adhered to. They were subject to re-visions based on changes of government visions, economic conditions, mega events hosting and mega projects initiatives.
The planning re-visions, the hosting of mega events and the adoption of achieving rapid development through mega projects strategies are among the causes of this fractal discourse. This condition is common in other vibrant cities, especially in the Gulf region since the discovery of oil in the middle of the 20th century. Vibrant cities require more resilient planning approaches and practices to cope with frequent changes of requirements and visions. Unlike traditional master planning approaches, new approaches need to be developed that consider regional, geographic, historical, socio-cultural and spatial context. Borrowed planning approaches proved ineffective in directing urbanization in Gulf cities. The plunging of the oil prices at the end of 2014 is another alarming sign for Gulf countries whose income depends mainly on oil production and revenues. Many of them failed to diversify their economy and use the petrodollar to establish more sustainable sources of income. The impact of this economic turn on urbanization and development in the Gulf region will remain to be seen with the beginning of 2016.