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City Dynamics

Challenges

Many cities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are experiencing rapid growth due to various factors such as natural population growth, urbanization, and immigration. These driving forces impact cities in myriad ways. The current population of 29 million is expected to double by 2038, potentially further straining the cities’ infrastructure to the point of becoming a major hindrance to socioeconomic and daily activity. For example, large cities in the Kingdom regularly experience severe traffic congestion and road safety issues, making it time consuming and unsafe to commute. Left unaddressed, this strain on infrastructure threatens to weigh down the return on investment from the massive public development projects throughout the Kingdom, and adversely affect the quality of life of all residents. Such rapid urban growth often creates both challenges and opportunities for the public sector. The challenges stem from the need to ensure that various city services are expanded at a pace to meet the growing demands of this burgeoning population, and that both growth and development proceed in an orderly and sustainable manner. As many initiatives are still being planned and/or implemented, these challenges also create opportunities to apply new modes of thinking toward the future planning of the city, and the potential application of new tools and techniques for citizens and policymakers.

Objectives

We believe that it is important to investigate and understand the various challenges in scaling city services at a higher detail towards decomposing them across multiple dimensions. In this project we develop the City Dynamics framework to address the intricacies between demand and supply of cities’ infrastructures under the influence of multiple driving factors such as cultural norms, environment, and demographics on various city systems such as land use, transportation, energy, and ICT infrastructures. The project captures and quantifies the implications of patterns within the general drivers on its infrastructure as well as the intricacies between city systems. Recognizing the unique cultural and social tapestry of the Kingdom, we further seek to understand the social patterns of the country’s inhabitants with specificity. For instance, how do the cultural and religious expressions of its citizens impact the demands of the country’s infrastructure? Through an understanding of these dynamics, we seek to anticipate the impact of aggregated behaviors to inform policy and the planning of physical infrastructures in response to the needs of the citizenry and enable government, planners and even private businesses to develop their plans based on a better and more holistic understanding of our cities.

Methodology

New technologies are allowing new ways to 'sense the city'. For instance, systems already in place that were developed for other reasons, such as telecommunications, can also function as a source of information on how our cities operate. This data can be used to make sense of urban dynamics and the flow of materials, information, and human resources within a city. We seek to use such data to understand the specific patterns of behavior and use within the Kingdom’s cities. The projects span many domains - from energy to mobility - in an attempt to understand, and prove new methods for understanding of the urban environment. We ground our research in the urban opportunities and challenges particular to Riyadh and Makkah. Being the capital and the largest city in the Kingdom, Riyadh houses roughly 25% of the Kingdom’s population. With 50% of the population less than 18 years old, it places a unique burden on city planners toward meeting its growth requirements. Similarly, Makkah is a globally unique city where visitors far outnumber the residents. Its demographics change continuously due to Islamic rituals around the year, making it a significant and unparalleled case study. Going forward, we intend to work closely with various stakeholders in understanding the underlying reasons for collective behavior, as well as the resulting impacts on various city systems and the opportunities for improvement through policy.