GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Salalah Globalized: Developing, Fragmenting and Marketing a “Secondary City” at Spatio-Temporal Interfaces
Paper Proposal Text :
Whereas neighbouring Dubai, with its highly iconic buildings and landmarks, is in the focus of public and academic attention, Oman has remained more cautious for a long time in establishing new architectural and infrastructural projects. Economic and urban development concentrated very much in the capital area around Muscat. Only since the mid-1990s, when the Sultanate endeavoured to diversify the economy and create more balanced development regionally, other parts of the country obtained much more attention. With that, one special focus was on port and tourism development as well as on the economic progress of the country’s southernmost region of Dhofar and its centre, the city of Salalah and its surroundings.
Concentrating on social issues and basic infrastructure to appease the civil war ravaging the region at that time, Salalah got an initial development push and experienced the first extension of its urban perimeter in the 1970s, but subsequently no considerable industrial investment took place. Then, in the late 1990s, a huge container port opened which rapidly became one of the most important container hubs in the world. In parallel, the neighbouring industrial zone expanded and soon an adjacent international free zone was added. Several big “integrated tourism complexes” have more recently begun to be implemented or are in the pipeline. Currently, a number of urban projects such as a big mall and the first gated community are also under construction; waterfront development near a traditional quarter and a heritage zone is envisaged. Additionally, transport infrastructure is being upgraded or planned in the foreseeable future. At the same time, however, remnants of the older settlements that form central parts of today’s Salalah have been neglected and have fallen into ruins.
These recent and still-ongoing urban and economic developments have a number of implications. On the one hand, they contribute not only to the rapid expansion of the urban fabric, but also to spatial fragmentation of the urban agglomeration, mainly resulting from projects which provide only limited public access. On the other hand, long-term neglected Salalah is being catapulted at several spatial interfaces: between world-regions as well as between the national and international realms. So that while several urban fragments are well integrated into the global flow economy of production, transport, trade and tourism, they are rather sparsely connected to their immediate local and national surroundings.
Parallel to that, the current economic development program needs to attract customers, businessmen, investors and tourists and thus, efforts are being made to “sell” the city as well as the projects located in and around it, mostly addressing an international public. This far-reaching marketing and branding of Salalah – in sales prospectuses, marketing brochures, internet websites and other self-presentation media – places the city and the projects into specific spatial settings, mostly at the intersection of different overlapping world-regions, too. But the discourse and visualization linked to them also situate these places at temporal interfaces referring to a glorious past, when the area had already been integrated into wide-spanning commercial circuits and Oman was a maritime power in the Indian Ocean, while simultaneously demonstrating its modernity, progressiveness and internationality with contemporary installations complying with global quality standards and expectations, displaying (post)modern equipment and design. As in other “post-oil cities”, this is also reflected in architectural features, which should help to attract attention and therefore are widely communicated, in particular with the help of virtual simulations and models during planning and construction stages. They frequently display hybrid styles, said to combine contemporary comfort and amenities with “traditional” and “authentic” elements that emphasise their regional rootedness.
Thus, the proposed paper intends to study the current urban developments of Salalah. With that, it will analyse one of the “secondary cities” which have been neglected compared to the interest shown in the development first of Dubai and then of other big cities on the Arab side of the Gulf for more than a decade. Far from being a “global city”, Salalah is nevertheless heavily “globalized” and integrated into specific global and regional networks of flows. In a conceptually and theoretically informed manner (referring e.g. to recent approaches to postmodern urbanization and marketing) the paper seeks to understand how Salalah developed into an interfacial city, linking, amalgamating as well as confronting several kinds of spaces and several time periods. The focus will therefore be on
- spatial fragmentation effects;
- the globalisation of Salalah and its emergence as an interregional transport hub;
- the marketing and branding of the city, particularly formulating and visualizing the different interfaces where Salalah becomes placed;
- and the use of attention-raising architecture for economic purposes.
Turning to the Indian Ocean and at quite a distance from the urban centres of the Gulf, the paper will finally ask whether and in how far Salalah is following the extensively discussed “Dubai model”. Is it only a replica of Dubai – on a smaller scale – or does it combine some typical features with a more specific model of urban and economic development?