Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The History of Land Use and Development in Bahrain

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

The History of Land Use and Development in Bahrain

Article excerpt

The History of Land Use and Devel- opment in Bahrain, Mohammad Noor Al-Nabi, Bahrain, Infor mation Affairs Authority, 2012, 345 pp., ISBN 978-99958-0-129-8, avail- able online www.housing.gov.bh/en/.../6681%20 book%20resized.pdf

There are several special features of this big book. It is the autobiographical account of 30 years of work as Chief Town Planner for the Kingdom of Bahrain, by a graduate of Dhaka's University of Engineering and Technology and of Liverpool's Department of Civic Design. The period covered, from 1971 to 2002, includes the growth of the Gulf state based on a scatter of simple ancient settlements, including seven towns, which had developed economically only since 1935 when the first oil refinery was commissioned. The northern half of Bahrain is now densely urbanised and well served with modern highways, including a causeway to Saudi Arabia. The linked islands have a popula- tion of 1.25 million over a land area of 187 hectares.

A first attempt at national physical planning was made in 1968 by A. M. Munro who was an advisor for the British Depart- ment of Overseas Development. He set up a Physical Planning Unit which became the focus of new powers under the direction of His Highness Sheikh Abdullah Bin Khalid Al Khalifa, a senior member of the family that has ruled Bahrain since 1783.

The modernising changes planned and pushed through by the author featured the reclamation of land from shallow seas for the extension of the capital Manama, the drawing up of master plans to rationalise and expand existing settlements, the laying out of European style residential estates and the creation of a new town. The designation of green belts proved to be a controversial import, as was the construction of new roads through and around historic areas. The book recounts the problems of assembling land against the opposition of influential owners and issues of conservation in an increas- ingly dry land where date palm gardens had flourished but are now scarce. The author complains that in the green belt which was intended to protect the gardens around the town of Arad, 'for lack of strict implemen- tation of regulations many developments [...] took place', 'Palm trees died for lack of care and lack of water. Only few patches of greenery now exist in the area' (p. 225).

The built heritage of Bahrain includes structures dating from the sixteenth-century colonisation by the Portuguese and, more significantly, an extraordinary number of burial sites. These were obstacles in the paths of new roads and around many of the places for which master plans were prepared, including the new town site identified person- ally by Mr Al-Nabi. Taking care not to destroy them has been a major preoccupation of the planning process.

Bahrain's experience provides material for the debate about the merits of European style master planning in developing countries and the other more conceptual alternatives as discussed in Belinda Yuen's paper Urban planning in Southeast Asia: perspective from Singa- pore. …

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