Nowhere more than in the Middle East today do we need to address Sustainable Development Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Cities in this region that are historically rich are experiencing civil war, destruction, and extensive, rapid re-development, sanctions and occupation.
Destructive change in countries that are rich in natural resources
Two types of destructive change affect cities and communities in the Middle East. First, there are civil wars in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, Palestine. Second, issues of market driven globalisation that are manifest in the form of excessive waste and consumption that are the result of exclusive and unjust wealth distribution in the region. Both forms of change have resulted in material and immaterial segregation of neighbourhoods and gated communities.
Consequently, contemporary Middle Eastern cities are fragmented and suffer from a ‘new geography of exclusion’ driven by free markets and massive privatisation of public assets. There is deep concern that both forms of destructive change are taking place in countries rich in natural resources and history.
The results of these changes erase urban forms, and consequently erode traces of a city’s identity and its extraordinary vernacular forms and techniques. These elements were once affordable for the majority of families and provided mixed communities with access to social provisions. Unless urgent action is taken, these basic, familiar elements will disappear and be replaced by global, exclusive, and alien technologies and forms of gated communities. The impact of these creates segregated and fragmented urban forms, which to some extent amplify friction and conflict.
Sustainable redevelopment only possible when socio-cultural inclusion is considered
While some ancient cities in Iraq, Syria Libya and Lebanon are burning and being destroyed, global private companies are employing design teams to plan their reconstruction on a massive scale. Genuine sustainable redevelopment must not be limited to discussions about renewable energy only; sustainability in any urban development is only possible when socio-cultural inclusion is considered, and this means mixed-use designs and access to resources for all.
Close consultation with a range of communities, age groups and genders should inform sustainable development. At the same time, architects and urban planners must urge the protection of historic civic traces, the identity of a city, and its socio-cultural practices.
Promote inclusive societies through urban integration
The most effective way to contribute to the Middle East peace process is to deter social conflict by stitching the fragmented city together and discouraging gated communities. This integrated process for sustainable development should closely follow the Sustainable Development Goals to promote peaceful and inclusive societies through urban integration.