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Urbanization in Saudi Arabia

Over the past few decades, one striking effect of Saudi development has been rapid urban migration. In the early 1970s, an estimated 26 percent of the population lived in urban centres. In 1990 that figure rose to 73 percent. The capital, Riyadh, had about 666,000 inhabitants, according to the 1974 census, and 4.7 million in 2010. In mid-2012, the total population of Saudi Arabia was estimated to be just under 29 million.

Kingdom Tower in Riyadh saudi arabia urbanization
Kingdom Tower in Riyadh / Photo Shutterstock

Urbanization, education, and modernization have had profound effects on society as a whole, but especially on the family. The urban environment fostered new institutions, such as women’s charitable societies, that facilitated activities for women outside the family network. Urban migration and wealth have broken up the extended family household, as young couples leave their hometowns and establish themselves in single-family homes.

The government has announced plans to establish ‘economic cities’ in various regions of the country to promote development and diversification. King Abdullah Economic City, north of Jeddah, is one of four planned cities in Saudi Arabia intended to add USD 150 billion to the country’s GDP. The fundamentals of King Abdullah Economic City are still said to be firm, but the delay in development shows that previous safe havens in the financial crisis are no longer immune. Phase one of the seaport of King Abdullah Economic City is completed, and the port is scheduled to be operational in early 2013. The industrial land is being sold to leading companies such as Almarai, E.A. Juffali & Brothers, and Jamjoom. Residential towers Beach One and Beach Two have been completed by 2012, with more residential and commercial construction on the way. Work on the Haramain High Speed Rail project has begun and is expected to be completed by 2013, connecting the main four cities on the west coast, Medina, Jeddah, Mecca, and King Abdullah Economic City. The business park at the city is completed and ready for the companies to move in.

Saudi Arabia is the largest construction market in the Gulf, with over USD 300 billion of projects planned or under way.

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