Urenio Watch Watch: Cities

Madinat Al-Irfan: Another Planned City in the Arabian Peninsula

Madinat Al-Irfan is the name of the new planned city Oman is trying to develop. Located to the west of Muscat, Oman’ s capital, near the international airport, the city has already built by the government a convention center and a few hotels on the 1,500-acre site. Mimi Kirk has published a critical review in CityLab about this project.

Over the next 30 years Oman’s government plans to expand the city’s development, adding a central business district, a university, government buildings, souks, mosques, and residential neighborhoods, with the aim of hosting a population of 280,000.

The city’ s buildings will only reach 10 stories, which is customary in Oman, and will cluster around a wadi (stream bed), through which water flows after it rains. A 267-acre park will surround the wadi and a series of bridges will span it, allowing residents to walk back and forth to different areas of the metropolis. One area will allow terraced farming, irrigated by channels dug into the earth called aflaj. Some neighborhoods will feature dense, mid-rise apartment buildings’”a contrast to Oman’ s proclivity for capacious, resource-draining detached villas.

Overhangs on the city’ s mid-rise buildings will provide shade, encouraging Omanis to walk instead of drive. (Courtesy of Allies and Morrison)

Aurel von Richthofen, an expert on Persian Gulf urbanism says that

“the focus on a more compact and efficient use of land, with walkable areas and green spaces, is in line with the area’ s recent affinity for New Urbanist design’”spaces that are meant to foster growth that isn’ t oil-based and can be accomplished more sustainably.”

Madinat Al-Irfan will center around a wadi, or dry stream bed that fills with water after it rains (Courtesy of Allies and Morrison)

Alfredo Caraballo of Allies and Morrison, the British firm designing the city, said that Madinat Al-Irfan differs from previous planned cities because of its proximity to the capital. Oman’ s Blue City, for instance, was to be built about 55 miles from Muscat, while Madinat Al-Irfan is only around 7 miles away. As Caraballo states,

“We’ re not reinventing the wheel; we’ re reconnecting with how cities used to be made.’

The plan includes the potential for light rail from the new city to the airport, which the government would like to eventually expand into the capital itself. Such a move is hugely needed, as Muscat has no subway and only seven bus routes. The country’ s car ownership per capita is one of the highest in the world, and its traffic congestion is fearsome.

The southern area of the city will feature vernacular farming and irrigation techniques. (Courtesy of Allies and Morrison)

Many questions and doubts remain about the future of the city, as similar projects didn’t live up to their expectations, such as Masdar City, King Abdullah’s Economic City and Al Madina A’ Zarqa, or Blue City. As Von Richthofen notes, it’ s unclear how the city will be integrated into the larger capital area.

  • Read the whole article by Mimi Kirk here.