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Today’s ‘Arab City’ is a mix of contradictions

Traditional boats still ply Dubai creek as the city's skyline explodes. (dvoevnore /

Urbanization across the Arab world is filled with contradictions. Old city centers increasingly face decay, even devastation, as sleek new skylines redefine the region. Amal Andraos highlights these trends for Places Journal in an article that explores what it means to be an “Arab City.”

Dubai and Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, and Doha in Qatar, represent the new face of urbanization. These pop-up cities brimming with skyscrapers and luxurious villas and malls aim to blend contemporary architecture with traditional styles. Designers must play the role of “diplomat” by incorporating Islamic architectural motifs into hypermodern structures, Andraos says.  

The old city centers, such as Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, face a much tougher struggle. They are “now caught between the extremes of totalitarian rule and violent sectarian struggle,” Androas writes. The renewal effort in war-torn Beirut has been controversial, with critics complaining about eminent domain and other draconian tactics by developers, the article says. As noted here, efforts are underway in Cairo to restore historic buildings covered with grime to their original luster. 

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