Bill Unkles' worked as an urban management and economics expert for the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) in 2016. The ADA is the body primarily responsible for planning Riyadh, the nation's capital. This work provided an opportunity to view first hand key development issues facing a major city in a developing economy. Riyadh a city of some 6 million people including almost 2 million expatriate workers is currently totally car dependant. It is building a light rail metro system of 6 lines totalling some 175 kilometres of track, above and below ground. The high level of car dependence has contributed to the city's lack of a strong focus for commercial and retail activity. This appears to have hampered the potential for endogenous growth within the city. While the Saudi economy is heavily dependant on oil, the current relatively low prices for oil have sent the Kingdom's public finances into deficit. Growth in the economy now depends on a healthy private sector. Yet the economies of scale and scope so necessary to creating efficiencies and opportunities for the private sector are not present in the city.
The high levels of car dependence also means large areas of public space are devoted to roads and parking. Parking is relatively unregulated. Saturn Corporate Resources has been assisting with the development of a parking project for the city, where initially some subsidisation of private parking delivery is planned. The need to ensure the availability of parking is clear but this may undermine the success of the Metro. These dilemmas underlined the need for effective pricing of all resources in the urban economy.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia imposes few taxes preferring to rely on revenue from oil. A the local level the lack of taxes has supported land banking, and greater urban sprawl. The government has established an infrastructure contributions program for land developers but this raises only a small share of the cost of infrastructure provision, Bill Unkles provided a review of this system and developed a Request for Proposals for an expanded system.
Riyadh has no local government taxes or rates and the quality of service delivery by the Municipal authorities appeared highly variable. The lack of rates further encourages wasteful land use in the urban area. In comparison to many Western Cities where local authorities are predominantly funded by locally raised taxes, there seems to be little responsiveness to local area needs, with many parks and playgrounds neglected or underdeveloped and considerable inconsistency of development standards in the public realm. With local government is predominantly funded by the central government, this raised key issue of rights of local citizens to question and or influence the delivery of services in the local area, even with directly elected sub-municipal boards.
This work built on Bill's experience with Saturin in the analysis of urban development and urban transport issues within Australia.