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The Rise of Sustainable Cities in the Gulf Region

The Gulf region is witnessing a rapid and transformative shift towards a more sustainable future, driven by factors such as climate change, population growth, and the need for economic diversification. A pivotal aspect of this transformation is the emergence of sustainable cities that prioritize environmental friendliness, efficiency, and a high quality of life for residents.

Several notable sustainable cities are under development in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia’s NEOM mega-city is being constructed to be a zero-carbon city, while Lusail City in Qatar focuses on sustainable waterfront design. The United Arab Emirates boasts Masdar City, a carbon-neutral development centred on renewable energy and advanced mobility solutions. Oman’s Sultan Haitham City exemplifies sustainable practices and smart city principles in its development. These cities serve as pioneers in their respective countries, and their success demonstrates the potential for similar projects to flourish across the region.

Why sustainable cities?

There are numerous advantages to adopting sustainable cities. Firstly, these cities contribute significantly to environmental protection, safeguarding the planet for future generations. By implementing eco-friendly practices and renewable energy sources, they reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change.

Secondly, sustainable cities are highly efficient in their use of resources, resulting in cost savings and minimized resource depletion. Smart infrastructure, energy-efficient buildings, and optimized waste management systems contribute to economic prosperity and long-term sustainability.

Moreover, residents of sustainable cities experience a significantly improved quality of life. With a focus on green spaces, cleaner air, and access to cleaner water sources, these cities ensure enhanced physical and mental wellbeing of the inhabitants. The incorporation of pedestrian-friendly layouts and efficient public transportation systems also promote a healthier and more active lifestyle.

Despite the numerous benefits, the development of sustainable cities does present some challenges. One of the primary challenges is the higher initial investment required for planning and construction. Implementing cutting-edge technologies and sustainable practices may lead to higher upfront costs, which can pose financial challenges for developers and city planners.

Additionally, the complex and interconnected nature of sustainable urban planning demands careful coordination between various stakeholders. Balancing environmental considerations with economic viability and meeting the needs of a diverse population requires a comprehensive and adaptive approach to city management.

However, it is crucial to recognize that the long-term benefits of sustainable cities far outweigh these challenges, making them a worthwhile investment for the future.

Creating integrated sustainable cities

Developing sustainable cities entails harmoniously linking various features to create a favourable environment for long-term residents. The key question in this endeavour is whether the city can provide happiness and security to its citizens over an extended period, acknowledging that some inhabitants may frequently change their residence. The concept of sustainability encompasses multifaceted elements that contribute to the wellbeing of urban dwellers, emphasizing the importance of contentment and security for a city to be truly sustainable.

The smart innovation roadmap

To prioritize people over technology, a sustainable innovation roadmap called the “smart innovation roadmap” is essential in building vibrant and livable urban spaces. This comprehensive methodology integrates smart community, smart governance, and smart technology to create environmentally friendly, socially inclusive, and economically robust cities.

Pillar 1: Smart community – stakeholder engagement for people-centred approach

The foundation of the smart innovation roadmap lies in fostering a strong and engaged smart community. Collaboration among government, private sector, SMEs/startups, academic institutions, and communities ensures a people-centred approach to smart sustainable cities. Addressing the needs and aspirations of the community through a participatory development process results in greater inclusivity and collective contributions towards the city’s sustainability.

Pillar 2: Smart governance – aligning city vision with national strategies and SDGs

Smart governance plays a crucial role in driving the development of smart sustainable cities. This pillar focuses on establishing a smart sustainable city vision that aligns with the national strategy of the country and is connected to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By integrating the SDGs into the city’s vision, decision makers prioritize sustainability and address global challenges such as climate change and social equity. Creating a smart city index based on the strategy allows for continuous evaluation and accountability.

Pillar 3: Smart technology – infrastructure, solutions, and data for efficiency

The third pillar, smart technology, involves smart infrastructure, smart solutions, and data-driven efficiency. Smart infrastructure includes robust connectivity, energy-efficient systems, and data collection mechanisms. Smart solutions leverage technology to address urban challenges, optimize resource management, and enhance public services. The data generated by these solutions facilitates evidence-based decision making and continuous optimization of integrated systems. The beauty of this pillar to make it also sustainable is to offer technology as a service, or TaaS, to strengthen the partnership between government and private sectors. For example, technology like metaverse, AI, digital twins can be offered as a service. Companies can offer metaverse as a service in the government sector, private sector, banking sector, and so on.

The integration of the three pillars

The seamless integration of the three pillars is vital to the success of a smart sustainable city strategy. Engaging citizens, businesses, and academia in the smart community ensures the development of relevant and practical solutions aligned with community needs.


The Gulf region’s transition towards sustainable cities marks a significant stride towards a more environmentally conscious and prosperous future. The examples of NEOM, Lusail City, Masdar City, and Sultan Haitham City showcase the region’s dedication to innovation and sustainable development. With a focus on integrating smart community engagement, smart governance, and smart technology, these cities pave the way for a greener, more efficient, and inclusive urban landscape.

While challenges exist, the commitment to sustainable urban planning and the myriad benefits they offer make the journey worthwhile. The Gulf region’s dedication to sustainable cities not only protects the environment for future generations but also promises a brighter, more sustainable tomorrow for its residents. As global interest in sustainability grows, the Gulf region’s role as a leader in sustainable urban development becomes increasingly crucial, shaping the landscape of the region and inspiring sustainable practices worldwide.

The smart innovation roadmap offers a comprehensive methodology to accelerate the adoption of smart sustainable cities in the Gulf region. By prioritizing smart community engagement, smart governance, and smart technology, cities can effectively plan and execute their strategies, leading to sustainable and prosperous urban spaces for their residents. The integration of these pillars ensures that the development process remains coherent, inclusive, and adaptable to future challenges, ultimately guiding the Gulf region towards a more sustainable and prosperous future. To conclude, we should always make people a priority in designing our cities as they are the ones who are going to live in these cities.

Laila Al Hadhrami 

Managing Director, C3 Advisory

Smart and Sustainable Cities Advisor