Interview: Fahad Albuliheshi
How is urban infrastructure being developed for diversified economic and demographic growth?
FAHAD ALBULIHESHI: Projects focusing on humanising the city began in 2016, with Medina undertaking radical structural reforms. The projects focused primarily on the revaluation of natural heritage; the transformation of central urban areas of historical and religious importance; and the development of local social, business and commercial communities. These three pillars were designed to increase the population’s quality of life, attract visitors and foreign investment, and better prepare Medina to welcome the shared benefits of such progress. A further long-term aim of this project is to create a successful model that can potentially be replicated in all the cities in the Kingdom.
In terms of the city’s natural heritage, we focused on the restoration of Wadi Al Aqeeq, or the “Blessed Valley”, and its surrounding areas. We sought to revive the area’s culture and placed renewed impetus on economic prosperity and environmental rehabilitation. Such a project revitalises culture through the protection and rehabilitation of sites, promotes well-being through community spaces, and pursues prosperity through innovation, foreign investment, the more efficient use of resources and sustainable development.
Concerning the transformation of urban areas, the project aimed to renovate the central Darb Al Sunnah Street and Quba Avenue, connecting the two major religious sites of Al Haram and the Mosque of Quba. We sought to create vibrant public spaces that would allow tourists and pilgrims to enjoy a pleasant walk in a multifunctional area rich in religious and historical sites, shopping centres and relaxation areas.
In what ways have local institutions fostered the empowerment of local communities?
ALBULIHESHI: We in Medina are well aware of the important role small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play in the Kingdom’s economy, and how difficult it is for these entities to access the resources they need to succeed. Local organisations are sensitive to this and have created a series of joint initiatives, both public and private, aimed not only at knowledge transfer and mentorship, but also at facilitating access to credit and strengthening commercial channels in order to generate higher revenue for SMEs. Upskilling efforts have also been made in slum areas.
The Almadinah Region Development Authority has prioritised SMEs, creating ad hoc physical spaces and promoting social events aimed at stimulating the economic development of this segment. Additionally, the Knowledge Economic City has dedicated spaces and opportunities for SMEs. These enterprises have been relatively successful in Medina in recent years, in part because of the essential support of Namaa Almunawara, a non-profit organisation committed to encouraging entrepreneurship and empowering SMEs.
What role can the education sector play in ensuring the availability of the skilled workers needed to meet development goals?
ALBULIHESHI: Especially in light of Vision 2030’s Saudiisation objectives, close cooperation between the education sector and industry is essential. The results of the dialogue between the two parties has been positive. The education sector has been particularly receptive to what the different industry players need for growth. Local educational institutions have focused training offerings on the segments that are essential for profitable economic growth: tourism, technology and health care. Medina’s universities, for example, are excelling at both the regional and the global level in these subjects, offering bachelor’s, master’s and executive degrees.
This alignment of resources has allowed the region to continue to grow at pace as a centre for tourism and pilgrimage, as a centre for health care excellence and as one of the leading smart cities in the world.
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