Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope in a Globalizing World

Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope in a Globalizing World

Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope in a Globalizing World

Planning Middle Eastern Cities: An Urban Kaleidoscope in a Globalizing World

Synopsis

The contributors to this text focus on modern Arab cities, looking at both their history and the effects of globalisation on the structure and function of today.

Excerpt

This book originated from a desire to articulate a local voice. Many writings on the Middle East are from external observers. While such efforts are commendable they may miss some of the nuances of our region which can only be detected by those who are - on a daily basis - dealing with the problems of the 'Arab' street. Whether it is in encounters with citizens and authorities or dealing with various public and private organizations, all play a vital role in constructing an understanding, a referential framework, which may be absent for those observing our cities from afar. While such closeness may lead to a subjective viewpoint - as opposed to the 'objective', 'neutral' external observer - it nevertheless contributes to an empathy and an understanding of the 'deep structure' of Middle East cities. It is of interest to note however that all writers - except one - have left their 'home' cities and have settled elsewhere in the Middle East after a period of studying in the West. They exemplify the condition of the 'modern nomad' moving from one place to another, not belonging to a fixed country. At the same time living in, and being exposed to, more than one Middle East city has led to a better comprehension of our urban environment, particularly in appreciating its heterogeneous nature. Furthermore, being exposed to a variety of cultures, religions, and languages has led to an openness, and an understanding of the 'other'. Rather than stereotyping cultures which are different from our own we are trying to utilize the methods and tools of the West to further our understanding of our own societies, and in many ways to engage in a period of self-reflection and criticism rather than denial.

Another motivation for this book is the desire to dismantle stereotypes: whether it is in how the Middle East city is conceptualized, as I argue in the introduction, or how scholars employed in Arab universities are sometimes viewed. All but two of the contributors are working in Arab scientific institutions. It is rare that a chance is offered for people in our region to write about issues of vital interest to us and directed at a Western audience. The widely cited Arab Human Development Report, commissioned by the United Nations, has acquired its relevance and significance from the fact that it was written by Arabs thus conferring legitimacy. We hope that such efforts would be replicated, and this book should be viewed in that context. Scholars and academics in the Arab world have a lot to offer - many have elected to 'return' to improve the condition of their region - recognizing that the only way out of our current state of underdevelopment is to learn from the West and to assess critically our own values and beliefs - a fact made more urgent in the post 9/11 era. These tragic events have projected on our culture a perception of intolerance of others, yet they have also shown that we need to re-examine our own societies and the extent to which we are still struggling with 'modernity'.

I would like to acknowledge the effort of the contributors in this book. Their dedication and enthusiasm has been admirable, especially in following a tight schedule and in responding to some of my comments. The difficulty in balancing their various obligations while working on their respective chapters is appreciated. Ann Rudkin, deserves a special recognition for her vital role in bringing this book about, and her diligent effort in editing and correcting the chapters. Many of

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