Rawabi New Town

Palestine’s first $1bn planned city

By Nick Ames

Rawabi is located 9km north of Ramallah on Palestine’s West Bank.

The first planned city to be constructed in Palestine will be named Rawabi, Arabic for ‘The Hills’.

The project, which was initially planned by AECOM and is set to cost $1 billion, will include residential, retail, and leisure facilities, two mosques, a church, a hospital, a cinema, and a 15,000-seat amphitheatre for international music acts.

“I feel it is important as I believe 100 percent that if we cannot overcome the political issues surrounding developing Palestine in this project, then we will never develop anything,” commented Mutaz Khdeir of Bayti, a development company involved in the initial planning of Rawabi.

The project has been approved by the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Higher Planning Council.

The city’s amphitheatre is based on a traditional classical Roman design and is also set to include cafes and restaurants at its apex.  But at the moment huge pictures of stars such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Bob Marley fill the spaces where windows will be placed.

Rawabi is the largest private sector project in Palestinian history, and was initiated at the Palestinian Investment Conference, which took place in Bethlehem in 2008.  The city is located on the West Bank, 9km to the north of Ramallah.

The slogan calls the city: “A place to live, work and grow”.  The development is funded by the Qatari company LDR, and Palestinian multimillionaire Bashar al-Masri, who has been working on similar projects in Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan.

“[Al-Masri] felt it was time he did something for the people of his home country,” said Khdeir.  “The developers have been involved in projects across the world and thought it was time to develop Palestine.

“The city will include 6,000 residential units and eventually be home to 40,000 people.  It is being built in phases, the first and second neighbourhoods are completed along with around one quarter of the commercial centre,” he added.

The project has not been without difficulties – access via road was finally achieved through the efforts of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, while it was only on 7th May 2015 that the city was connected to water supplies.

The Palestinian Authority is responsible for providing off-site infrastructure, while Bayti is tasked with the design and development of the city.  The Rawabi economic growth strategy has the aim of creating 3,000 to 5,000 new jobs in what it calls a “knowledge economy”.  Primarily, these will be within the IT, education, and healthcare sectors.

“We want to turn this into Palestine’s equivalent to Silicon Valley,” said Khdeir.  “We want companies such as Google and Microsoft to outsource to us.”

Engineer Shadia Jaradat finished her degree in civil engineering at Birzeit University, another organisation involved in the planning of Rawabi.  She is one of a handful of students trained to use the planning software that was employed.

She said: “I wanted to work on projects in Palestine, but they didn’t use BIM here.  The whole time I was always wondering: Will I have to go to the Gulf countries? Will I have to go to the States? Where am I going to find projects working with this technology?”

Sustainability is also a major factor in the project, with thousands of trees being planted, including an olive sapling put into the earth by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

One of the first visitors to the construction site was US senator John Kerry, the current Secretary of State, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also viewed the project.

Published on 11 May 2015 in Arabian Business   http://www.arabianbusiness.com/