(MENAFN - Arab News) The holy city of Madinah has found a special place in World Economic Forum's report of the global agenda council on competitiveness.
The report titled 'The Competitiveness of Cities' was released this month. It answers key questions such as: Can an ancient religious city as sacred and unique as Madinah re-brand itself as a knowledge economic city in the 21st century Can an urban real estate project drive this vision for Madinah
The report points out that millions of people come to Madinah throughout the year
not only for Haj but also for Umrah.
The city could with its new modern university hold conferences on major modern-day issues with experts in science math and other specialties.
Whether this project leads to an intellectually vital residential and corporate community remains to be seen but repositioning need not wait for buildings to be in place.
In prosaic terms conference tourism could augment religious tourism in a culturally sensitive way enhancing appeal for investors retirees and even firms.
Even before the buildings are up Madinah could simply announce informal symposiums.
Physicists might come in the first week of a month astronomers the second and diabetic experts the third for instance.
Intellectual stimulation could be added to spiritual activities. Madinah could recapture an intellectual leadership role contributing to knowledge generation and dissemination and in a way keeping with both its historic and religious tradition as a 'city of light.'
At times the project seemed to suffer from lack of coordination among real estate developers city leaders and Saudi visionaries. Travel restrictions on women and non-Muslims who may not travel inside the excluded area in much of the city center also complicate things.
But if city competitiveness can be relevant to Madinah in the vision
of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah then there is virtually no city in the world that cannot benefit from a rethinking of its vocation in a newly interconnected world of the 21st century knowledge economy.
In 2006 the Kingdom announced its intention to create a new knowledge economic city in
the northwest quadrant of Madinah donating land and investing billions of dollars in a major city infrastructure and real estate development project.
Fast transport will link the area to the central mosque within minutes. Companies with knowledge-intensive characteristics will be encouraged to site there and great minds will be encouraged to retire in the magical city.
Conferences will be held and properties sold
to investors. Scheduled investments include a major new hospital and a vast Epcot Center for the Islamic world including the lands of Islam and examples cited in the Qur'an presented in a way designed to entertain and delight families during their leisure time.
But there is a greater vision.
'Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah' literally means the 'City of Light' and was historically a center for both spiritual and intellectual enlightenment. After prayers students would gather around various pillars of the holy mosque as global scholars taught them. It was the bricks-and-mortar Internet of its day. This intellectual vocation fell by the wayside but may now be on the rebound.
The report said that the objectives of this work are to encourage city leaders and policymakers at local regional national and international levels as well as academic and other experts to focus on competitiveness at the city level.
The work will also encourage a rich global dialogue on this issue and shine light on creative and path-breaking initiatives that address the multiplicity
of challenges facing today's cities.
'The World Economic Forum has been studying competitiveness for over 30 years by focusing on the assessment of the productive potential of countries
in The Global Competitiveness Report series' said Espen Barth Eide managing director of the Center for Global Strategies
World Economic Forum.
This report presents taxonomy of drivers of city competitiveness as well as a number of representative case studies of cities.
The case studies are drawn from different geographies and varying levels of development that face different challenges and starting points.
The objective of this work is to inspire and motivate city leaders the private sector and civil society to work together to address the most important competitiveness challenges of cities by shedding light on cretive and innovative initiatives put into place by cities around the world.
The Knowledge Economic City (KEC) stands out among the Kingdom's economic cities because of its goal of promoting knowledge-based industries (KBIs). The new city will have a technological and economic information center a campus for medical research and bio-sciences and a center for studies in Islamic civilization.
The project is the third economic city in the Kingdom initiated by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority in an aggressive bid to repatriate capital and attract value-added foreign investments. The project is expected to attract investments worth more than SR25 billion (6.7 billion) and create nearly 25000 new jobs.
The choice of Madinah augurs well as the city was the seat of power and knowledge during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his righteous caliphs.
Over the centuries it has attracted thousands of Muslim faithful from around the world who came to the city seeking knowledge and wanting to live in the vicinity of the Prophet's Mosque.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah launched the KEC on June 18 2006. SAGIA played a pivotal role in the conceptualization of the project.
'The king's vision for an economic city based on KBI is a forward-looking step. The project will boost the region's chances of attracting investments in order to overhaul services in Madinah' said a senior SAGIA official. 'This vital project falls within plans to upgrade the Kingdom's regions in a sustainable fashion taking into consideration competitive advantages' he said.
Given Madinah's historic position as the launch-pad of Islamic culture by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) more than 14 centuries ago the KEC project is a renaissance of sorts as Madinah will be used to launch knowledge-based industries the official added.
The project is part of SAGIA's efforts to promote investments into the sectors that offer the best competitive advantages namely energy transportation and knowledge-based industries. The KEC includes an interactive museum on the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Madinah is uniquely positioned to attract Muslim talent from all over the world eager to live work retire or make extended visits to the second most sacred city in Islam.
While it is rich in heritage Madinah has already been a leader in digital economy initiatives and a pilot for e-government schemes. There are already well-established higher education institutions serving both SMET (science mathematics engineering and technology) and religious segments.
Madinah's expanding economy is driven by a growing number of Haj and Umrah pilgrims. More than 5 million visit the city every year and the number is expected to exceed 10 million within a decade.
The declaration of KEC as a special economic zone under the regulatory jurisdiction of SAGIA enables the city to provide an attractive and KBI-friendly business environment. KEC envisages an alternative central business district for Madinah with better facilities and infrastructure and one that is easily accessible to the region's residents and visitors.
It will also be developed as a major tourist destination supported by the unique theme park world-class hospitality establishments and outstanding retail stores.
The new development will comprise a range of complementary zones a technology and KBI zone an advanced IT studies institute an integrated medical services zone a retail zone a business district residential zones including high rises houses and fully serviced apartments shopping malls and a mosque with room for 10000 worshippers.
The high-tech park located over an area of 360000 square meters will contain a series of highly equipped 'smart' buildings provided with state-of-the-art IT and telecommunications infrastructure.
The Center of Islamic Civilization Studies and Research which spans an area of 205000 square meters will benefit from the availability of a wide variety of resources and scholars in Madinah. It will specialize in history and cultural educational programs using modern distance learning technologies video conferencing and Web casting.
Spanning 85000 square meters the Center for Medical Sciences and Biotechnology will provide medical services to Madinah residents as well as to pilgrims coming from different parts of the world.
The theme park is being designed to give visitors of all ages interests and cultural backgrounds an unforgettable virtual tour into the history of the Prophet's heritage and Islamic civilization.