To learn from the cities of the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the most controversial and dynamic among them (places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha), does not mean celebrating them or ridiculing them either. Instead, the authors in this book follow the intellectual footprints of the architectural scholars Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, who looked at a city nearer at hand and in their own time. In their now classic Learning from Las Vegas, they went beyond seeing Las Vegas as tasteless, materialistic, or aberrant and insisted that it had important lessons for all places.1 According to them, the city needed to be studied on its own terms—an insistence that changed not only future understandings of Las Vegas but also of architecture, planning, and urban thinking more generally. In their view, “Withholding judgment may be a tool to make later judgment more sensitive. This is a way of learning from everything.” Why the Gulf? In The New Arab Urban, with a group of scholars from across many academic disciplines and diverse parts of the world, we strive to learn from the cities of the Persian Gulf—in particular the global showcase cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Doha, the capital of Qatar—more or less adjoining locales at the mouth of the Gulf. Because of practical limitations, we have given shorter shrift to other parts of the urban Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain, which are also part of the interlinked economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). We are also spare in our attention to Riyadh, inSaudi Arabia—the largest GCC city but one that, in terms of history, ambitions, and contemporary relations with other parts of the world, is in a class distinct from the others. With its (currently) thin political and economic connections to the rest of the Gulf, Iran only occasionally comes into our purview. Recognizing the variation, we avoid thinking in terms of any single “Gulf City model.” To help make the point, we adopt the plural—Gulf cities—in the book’s title. We do not want to repeat the historically common essentializing error of treating cities, variously “Islamic” or “Arab” or “Middle East,” as the same, nor to unthinkingly generalize traits observed at one point in time, whether the sixteenth century or 2018, as true of urban histories, full stop. Especially when dealing with large expanses of geography and peoples, where past scholarship has been radically uneven, we need to avoid falling back on stereotypes, including those academically generated. We might have even called out the cities of focus as “our Gulf cities,” to further suggest the limits of the book’s reach. This introduction explains why studying these cities under a new perspective is not only necessary to understand them, but it also generates substantial theoretical and intellectual pay-off. This chapter, as well, introduces the themes and contributions in the book.

Introduction: Learning from Gulf Cities

d. ponzini
2019

Abstract

To learn from the cities of the Arabian Peninsula, particularly the most controversial and dynamic among them (places like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha), does not mean celebrating them or ridiculing them either. Instead, the authors in this book follow the intellectual footprints of the architectural scholars Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, who looked at a city nearer at hand and in their own time. In their now classic Learning from Las Vegas, they went beyond seeing Las Vegas as tasteless, materialistic, or aberrant and insisted that it had important lessons for all places.1 According to them, the city needed to be studied on its own terms—an insistence that changed not only future understandings of Las Vegas but also of architecture, planning, and urban thinking more generally. In their view, “Withholding judgment may be a tool to make later judgment more sensitive. This is a way of learning from everything.” Why the Gulf? In The New Arab Urban, with a group of scholars from across many academic disciplines and diverse parts of the world, we strive to learn from the cities of the Persian Gulf—in particular the global showcase cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Doha, the capital of Qatar—more or less adjoining locales at the mouth of the Gulf. Because of practical limitations, we have given shorter shrift to other parts of the urban Gulf, like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain, which are also part of the interlinked economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). We are also spare in our attention to Riyadh, inSaudi Arabia—the largest GCC city but one that, in terms of history, ambitions, and contemporary relations with other parts of the world, is in a class distinct from the others. With its (currently) thin political and economic connections to the rest of the Gulf, Iran only occasionally comes into our purview. Recognizing the variation, we avoid thinking in terms of any single “Gulf City model.” To help make the point, we adopt the plural—Gulf cities—in the book’s title. We do not want to repeat the historically common essentializing error of treating cities, variously “Islamic” or “Arab” or “Middle East,” as the same, nor to unthinkingly generalize traits observed at one point in time, whether the sixteenth century or 2018, as true of urban histories, full stop. Especially when dealing with large expanses of geography and peoples, where past scholarship has been radically uneven, we need to avoid falling back on stereotypes, including those academically generated. We might have even called out the cities of focus as “our Gulf cities,” to further suggest the limits of the book’s reach. This introduction explains why studying these cities under a new perspective is not only necessary to understand them, but it also generates substantial theoretical and intellectual pay-off. This chapter, as well, introduces the themes and contributions in the book.
The New Arab Urban: Gulf Cities of Wealth, Ambition, and Distress
9781479897254
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