Why will Jeddah Economic City represent a brand new concept for cities?
JEC is a private venture supported by the government. We have found an opportunity in the market to develop an urban node to anchor the north of the city to the rest of the urban area. The city has a population of 4 million people living in an area that is 50km by 10km; therefore, a new real estate concept is necessary. Nearly 60% of the Saudi population is below 30 years old and, within a decade, 60% will be below 25 years of age. These young people will need schools, jobs, and housing, with the latter representing a serious ongoing problem. The trend toward living in apartment buildings has taken hold, and people are increasingly moving from traditional houses to towers. Having a city center will attract people to this area, thereby encouraging the use of apartment buildings. These young people are going to need jobs as well, so more office blocks have to be constructed to generate more jobs. That way people can live and work in the area. From a lifestyle point of view, we also need to provide people with leisure, entertainment, and retail facilities. On top of this, Jeddah is a leading tourism destination for both Saudis and the 30 million pilgrims who come here annually. This number is likely to grow to 60 million over the next five years. The city center will be a mixed-use space with different types of housing, business, hotel, leisure, entertainment, retail, healthcare, and education zones.
How can a city help its citizens to thrive?
Building an urban center in a flat city can change the lifestyle of young Saudis. They will be able to spend less time on the road commuting, and as a result will come to work happier. Their working environments will be more conducive to productivity, as we can already see in Dubai. There will be new job opportunities with seven new hotels going up, major new retail opportunities, and numerous companies that are going to relocate. Young professionals will also be able to find a place to start their businesses in JEC. They can have a clearly defined address and easy location to find compared to setting up in a building in the old city where the street names and addresses are confusing. This will enhance the quality of life and create a shift in the way business is done.
What advantages does the country provide for a project like this?
This is one of the strongest economies in the Middle East, and we are blessed to be in Jeddah, which is the gateway to the Islamic world. Millions of pilgrims come through Jeddah every year going to and from Mecca and Medina. We also have a beautiful shoreline and are a prime destination for Saudi tourists who are excellent tourism clients. Jeddah is also the first business hub in the Kingdom, like Dubai in the UAE. Some 40% of the top 100 companies have their head offices here, and the city also has the second largest industrial zone in the Kingdom. Furthermore, the economy is the least dependent on oil and gas. My job is to build cities, and on all of my projects I work in close collaboration with the government, service and utility providers, and other major institutions, both public and private, to succeed. It is not about building a place; it is about putting a soul into a place. When you undertake a large project in Saudi Arabia you are in charge of setting up your own infrastructure and linking the city to the relevant services. The government is an important player here because it is investing heavily in infrastructure. Both the government and the private sector are doing their bit, and we cooperate in many other areas, making it a de facto PPP.