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Urbanization in Saudi Arabia and sustainability challenges of cities and heritage sites: heuristical insights

Ali Alqahtany (Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University, Dammam, Saudi Arabia)
Sreejith Aravindakshan (Wageningen University and Research (WUR), Wageningen, The Netherlands)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Article publication date: 29 April 2021

Issue publication date: 1 December 2022




The purpose of this paper is to explore the trajectories of the urbanization process in Saudi Arabia in its regional context from the unification of the country by King Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 1932 to the present time, and the urbanization impact on the status and management of cultural heritage in the Kingdom.


Our study design integrated a well-articulated theoretical frame of sustainability to gain a heuristical understanding of urbanization in Saudi Arabia, and its link to cultural heritage. The methodological approach was mixed in nature involving (1) literature search and review, (2) analysis of public documents and databases, (3) analysis of photographs and (4) expert interviews.


One of the most obvious findings reached in this study is that there is considerable trade-off between heritage site conservation, population and economic demand for increased urbanization. Hence, with increasing urbanization pressures, the value of the heritage site may be rethought based on Saudi Arabia's economic and cultural conservation perspectives.

Research limitations/implications

Since our data are mostly of textual narrative in origin, precise predictions were difficult or impossible for many reasons such as non-linearity, and non-equilibrium dynamics, context and scale dependence as well as the historical exigency of urbanization. However, the same theoretical framework can be applied to appropriate longitudinal/ time series data for predictive analyses, which can be taken up as a future research agenda.


This paper analyzes the urbanization process and sustainability challenges of cultural heritage sites employing a mixed methodological approach, embedded in a holistic theoretical framework of sustainability.



The first author greatly acknowledges the research support from the Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University, Dammam, Saudi Arabia. The second author gratefully acknowledges the non-financial research support from Farming Systems Ecology (FSE) at the Wageningen University and Research (WUR) in the Netherlands, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Dhaka, Bangladesh. The authors also thank the two anonymous reviewers for critically reading the manuscript and suggesting substantial improvements.


Alqahtany, A. and Aravindakshan, S. (2022), "Urbanization in Saudi Arabia and sustainability challenges of cities and heritage sites: heuristical insights", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 408-425.



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