Interview: Prince Faisal bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
What are some of the challenges Medina faces regarding the need to balance infrastructure development with the region’s historic heritage?
PRINCE FAISAL BIN SALMAN BIN ABDULAZIZ AL SAUD: Medina is not just the historic sites, but a region of the Kingdom with its own development challenges and opportunities. The development of historic places presents a particular challenge for urbanisation. This is due to the embedded tension between the expansion and growth needed to satisfy the needs of the inhabitants who live there and maintaining the historic character of the region. Medina is thus a global city and not just a local one.
Maintaining a balance between the infrastructure requirements of a global city that hosts millions of pilgrims and visitors year-round, and the local needs of the population is not an easy task. Thus, the guiding principles for us have been to facilitate access for the millions of visitors to the Prophet’s Mosque with ease; to preserve the city’s historic character; and to attend to the modern needs of local residents with regard to health care, educational institutions and projects that enhance the development of the local economy. These guiding principles have helped us to keep Medina in line with the vision for the whole Kingdom. The challenge, however, has been to keep the city friendly for people in terms of scale, access and ease. After all, cities are about people, and in holy cities this human and spiritual dimension is even more accentuated. Medina’s global importance to all Muslims puts the city at the top of development priorities. This can be seen clearly the moment one lands in Prince Mohammad bin Abdulaziz Airport, which ranks as the second-best airport in the Middle East. It is also obvious as a visitor sets foot on the Haramain High-Speed Rail, which connects the two holy cities of Makkah and Medina. Moreover, it is impossible for any pilgrim or visitor to miss the various expansions of the Prophet’s Mosque. In Medina we are proud of the achievements to make the visit of Hajj pilgrims an unparalleled spiritual experience. This human connection is what gives Medina its global reach.
How is the region boosting its profile both locally and nationally in the context of the country’s wider social development plans?
PRINCE FAISAL: The wider Medina region is of paramount importance. The industrial coastal city of Yanbu, which will soon be a leading global centre for petrochemicals, currently boasts the third-largest refinery in the world. The balance between industrial centres, such as Yanbu, and the preservation and development projects around the city of Medina is a challenge. Yet the balance has been maintained through programmes that focus on low-income areas. These areas have been developed without relocating inhabitants or disrupting their daily lives. The facades of homes reflect the unique character of these areas without disturbing the sensibilities or the aesthetics of the historic city. The walkways that connect all religious sites and make them accessible to pedestrian visitors and locals alike is also a project we are proud of. Along these pedestrian routes we have encouraged local crafts through the Namaa Almunawara foundation, which promotes local creative work under the slogan “Made in Medina” and contributes to the local economy. Medina has always been a centre for Islamic learning. In order to maintain this character of the city, we have embarked on an ambitious programme that focuses on schools and libraries. The King Abdulaziz Complex for Endowed Libraries is one example of how we have focused on the preservation and restoration of rare publications and manuscripts under one roof. This project is aimed at highlighting the role of Medina as a global centre of learning. We are also building a new museum called Alsalam Museum along the lines of other prestigious world museums. In it, visitors will be able to see rare artefacts and manuscript displayed for the first time.
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