RIYADH: Saudi Arabia said yesterday it would spend 86 billion riyals ($23 billion) to boost the quality of life in the capital Riyadh, increasing green space and recreational areas and installing 1,000 works of art across the city. The four projects unveiled are part of efforts to open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles, encourage physical activity and make life more fun in the conservative kingdom, alongside reforms to diversify the economy away from oil.
They are the latest in a series of planned development investments that King Salman has launched at the side of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. State media showed the pair touring a diorama of the plans, which include a park four times the size of Central Park and 135 km of cycling track. The king also ordered that one of the capital’s main roads be renamed after his son.
Work on the four new projects will start in the second half of the year and come on line gradually between 2023 and 2030. They will create 70,000 jobs and offer investment opportunities worth 50 billion riyals to local and foreign investors, state news agency SPA said. One initiative aims to increase six-fold the percentage of green areas in Riyadh, notorious for its multi-lane highways and concrete block buildings, by planting 7.5 million trees. Seven museums, an open art fair, pedestrian bridges and community gardens are also called for.
Such features were unimaginable in Riyadh just a few years ago when religious police patrolled the streets enforcing strict social codes like gender segregation and bans on public music. But life in the capital has become more relaxed in recent years after the crown prince clipped the wings of the religious police, ended a ban on cinemas and began organizing public concerts. He has won the support of many young Saudis.Saudi citizens have no vote and falling oil income could affect their living standards in coming years. As a result, improving quality of life is seen as important for ensuring political stability. – Reuters