“This is about how a region has developed, how it could evolve, and if there are any lessons that we can apply in other parts of the world – regardless of where they are and what they are doing,” began AECOM Vice President, Christopher Choa. It is with this excitement that he outlines his plans for what seems an impossible project, in which the discourse of disenfranchisement and humanitarian crisis is set aside to showcase Gaza’s extraordinary potential: talented youth, a 40-km waterfront conducive to walking streets and tramways, a regional transport hub, and neighbours who can benefit through trade and exchange.
Today, the notion of the mega-city which transcends national dynamics is far from new. From the Pearl River Delta in China to the Randstad in the Netherlands, city regions today are embracing regional cooperation and integration to compete with supply chains around the world, specialising and balancing the economic fortunes of each region. AECOM and The Portland Trust believe in making Gaza and the broader city-region a reality; their initiative is unusual for its ambition, its focus on government-free private-sector initiative, and its balanced combination of broad vision and specific projects.
The result is “Connected Gaza”, part of a megacity stretching from Amman to Tel Aviv through Jerusalem, with Haifa to the north and Gaza to the south, all bound together with infrastructure, trade, and specialization, with spatial focus around four centres called Gateway Gaza, Core Gaza, Wadi Gaza, and Beach Gaza. The idea is to consolidate to the north with strategic transport infrastructure (a port that relieves congestion in Israeli ports and allows interaction between Israeli and Arab goods and clients), serve from the east with trunk infrastructure, connect with history through improved local road networks, and recover natural systems- rehabilitating the depleted aquifer in particular.
Connected Gaza identifies 30 foundation projects, 7 integrated projects and 40 local projects – categorised as ‘Urgent’, ‘Early Win’, ‘Low-Cost’, ‘Risk-Incentive’, ‘Iconic’, and ‘Symbiotic’ (i.e. fulfilling both Palestinian and neighbours’ needs). The overall plan, which integrates economic strategies such as de-emphasising food and agriculture as a job creator, lowering water imports, refocusing on high-value exports and consumption, and supporting a knowledge economy through ICT training and high-value services in education and back-office finance.
The initiative anticipates that it will be in the mutual self-interest for political and security conditions in the region to improve. A trans-national city-region, with a knowledge-based economy of 3.5 million people, 1.1 million new jobs, focused on trade and exchange will be both the incentive and the result. ‘Thinking way in the future and then stepping backwards allows policymakers to speak rationally and confidently about the future.
As Christopher Choa concluded, “If you have a vision and if you think practically about projects and where they go spatially – if you anticipate how a region wants to grow if left to its own devices – do you also start to create a plan that somehow transcends politics? Do you create a plan that makes everyone winners? That’s all this project was about.”
Words by Pao Maneepairoj