Municipal councils lack sufficient local authority, and municipalities operate cities in a centralized system, which was not the case prior to the 1970s. This shift started in that decade for many reasons, most notably, the shift in socio-economic status that accompanied the rapid urbanization after the oil boom that changed the national economy and created urban sprawl and non-sustainable urban development. The Saudi central government started to rely heavily on financial resources from oil exports rather than resources coming from regional production. Compared to Dutch cities, population densities in most of the cities are low (according to the UN-Habitat, World Population Review, and Statista, the average population density in Jeddah, Dammam, and Riyadh is around 2,900 inhabitants per sq.km, while the average in Amsterdam, the Hague, and Rotterdam is around 4,600 inhabitants per sq.km). Air pollution is high too (according to the World Bank in 2018, the CO2 emissions reached 514,000 kt in Saudi Arabia while it was 151,171 kt in the Netherlands, which is 3.5 times as much as in Saudi Arabia, although the population in the Netherlands is almost half of the population in Saudi Arabia).
Serious challenges to urban sustainability and spatial inequality can be mitigated by involving people in the urban planning and development process. Hierarchical and centralized decision-making systems cause less stakeholder participation, less local government accountability, and less knowledge of the central authority about the local needs and problems. Usually, lack of local people’s involvement in decision-making has been derived from values inherited from certain local culture and social norms, such as the level of trust within the society and nomadic social hierarchism that have been converted into hierarchical systems, which affect urban policies and legislation formation that run cities in a centralized manner. Consequently, restricting society’s involvement became an inevitable result.
The research aims to:
1. Uncover and discuss the link between the local culture and social norms and the existing urban policies in Saudi urban governance.
2. Suggest ways to promote more decentralized governance in Saudi urban governance, which the research argues is better for sustainable urban development.
3. Analyze the conditions on the ground and recommend policies that promote public participation in line with Saudi local culture and acceptable social norms, which influence and enhance the decision-making process, urban sustainability, satisfying the society’s different segmental interests and needs.
4. Studies and measures the existing livability criteria of a selected case in a Saudi city in an empirical and quantitative methodology, taking an objective, data-driven, analytical approach to assess the spatial factor impact on the degree of public contribution.
As a comparative measure methodology, the study
5. looks at how urban policies in the Netherlands have achieved an outstanding record in public participation. That will help to compare them with the urban legislations in Saudi Cities.