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Madinah : a jewel committeed to the challenges of the future

	Madinah : a jewel committeed to the challenges of the future

 Madinah : a jewel committeed to the challenges of the future

Sustainable development goals 25 Apr 2024 by Maria J Martinez: Dilo Consulting


With inclusion, diversity and technology central to the smart city vision, Maria J Martinez reports on how the ‘Enlightened City’ has obtained the UN-Habitat Gold Recognition in the SDG Cities Programme.

There is a jewel in the western part of Saudi Arabia that arouses admiration and envy in equal measure. We are talking about Madinah, the holy city of Islam. With 1.5 million inhabitants, the city receives nine million visitors every year, eager to get close to the Prophet’s Mosque, which houses the tomb of Prophet Muhammad, by whom the mosque was built in 622 CE. 

Quba Mosque and Mount Uhud, also excite visitors – mainly pilgrims – who find in Madinah an invitation for reflection, spirituality, and calm. The authorities are betting that in 2030, 30 million visitors from all over the world will come to the city, moved by a thirst for culture, history, religion, and recollection.


Madinah Smart City Programme

The city of Madinah is not only a sacred treasure but also an example of technological evolution and inclusion, as demonstrated by its Madinah Smart City Programme (MSCP), an ambitious project from the Madinah Region Development Authority (MRDA), where the most cutting-edge technology operates to boost the quality of life of the population.

“Smart Madinah is a visionary project aimed at guiding the city through an era marked by rapid technological changes and uncertainties. The philosophy driving this project is centered around ‘Connectivity as a Lever of Change,’” says Abdulmajeed Mangara, director of MSCP. “We believe that by fostering robust connections – between places and people, the present and the past, supply and demand, and urban theories and the realities of urban life – we can ensure sustainable growth and resilience for Madinah.

“To achieve this, Smart Madinah integrates cutting-edge technologies with the city’s rich cultural heritage, ensuring that progress does not come at the expense of our identity.”


“Smart Madinah is a visionary project aimed at guiding the city through an era marked by rapid technological changes and uncertainties”

Madinah has received the Cities Gold Level from UN-Habitat. A recognition of the hard work of Madinah towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Madinah is the first Saudi city, the first Arab city and the third city worldwide to achieve the SDG Cities Gold Level.

This involves conducting data analysis and formulating an evidence-based, inclusive, sustainable strategic plan that mainstreams the SDGs. The collective efforts aim to propel Madinah towards an elevated standard of sustainable urban development.


The most tranquil smart city in the world

Madinah Smart City Programme is articulated in six priority sectors – health and wellness, tourism, environment and agriculture, transport and mobility, businesses, and old neighbourhoods. Far from a technology-based approach (IT-driven), the project is managed with a mindset focused on innovation and the needs of the city (demand- driven).

The Quba Mosque in Madinah,built in 622 CE

The city’s North Star vision states: We will create the most tranquil, generous, and dynamic smart city in the world, delivering enriched experiences to its residents and visitors, by putting technology, innovation, and collaboration at the heart of Madinah City.

“The city has conveyed its vision by establishing clear governance processes that ensure digital technologies and innovations serve to enhance the wellbeing of its residents,” explains Edlam Abera Yemeru, chief of knowledge and innovation at UN- Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme of the United Nations. “This differs from the more traditional view of smart cities, which has focused primarily on the adoption of new technologies and sometimes relegated the critical consideration of human needs and interactions with these technologies.”


“In Smart Madinah, technology serves as a bridge to enhance and showcase our cultural richness”


The first track of MSCP is the smart city framework, a deep study of the context of the smart city, its challenges, its priority sectors, and its strategy. The second one is the centre of excellence approach to operating city innovation labs, with the objective of ideating, developing, and scaling up use cases to address the city’s challenges. The third track is Raseel, the city platform, connecting existing and new vertical solutions and applications from various government and private sector entities in an integrative way instead of the existing silo-based business model. Different city services will be connected via a single platform to utilise big data and Internet of Things (IoT) feeds.

“In Smart Madinah, technology serves as a bridge to enhance and showcase our cultural richness. Our approach involves building upon the ‘soft infrastructure’ of the city, encompassing its cultural, social, and historical elements. This emphasis on soft infrastructure is what sets Smart Madinah apart, making its impact profound at the manifestation layer,” continues Mangara.

Pilgrims and tourists visit The Martyrs Of Uhud at Mount Uhud in Madinah

Dyfed Aubrey, inter-regional advisor from UN-Habitat, explains the technological specificity and differentiation of the Holy City: “UN-Habitat recognises that every city is unique, but what is special about our engagement in Madinah, has been the opportunity to work with and learn from the incredible spatial data system that the city has built that provides real-time and predictive information to support decision- making and effective smart city responses.”

Facts, not words

The hard work of Madinah towards the achievement of the SDGs is, without doubt, one of the main motivations of Madinah’s city authorities. UN-Habitat works closely with the city in its commitment to adopt the SDGs and the People-Centered Smart Cities initiative.

“To date, UN-Habitat and Madinah have engaged innumerous collaborations and

ensure that digital technologies can help preserve the city’s unique cultural heritage, among other critical needs, while the joining of the SDG Cities global initiative will help accelerate the city’s transformation into a model of diversified and sustainable development”, says Abera Yemeru.

Indeed, Madinah demonstrates with actions that her commitment to SDG’s goes beyond words. In February 2023, the city co-organised the Smart Madinah Forum with UN-Habitat, an event that brought together top-level local and international experts to propose solutions to the challenges facing cities. According to UN-Habitat, currently about 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities, and that number is expected to jump to 68 per cent by 2050, adding around 2.3bn more city dwellers. Cities are like economic powerhouses, churning out a whopping 80 per cent of the world’s economy.


“This synergy is instrumental in shaping an urban development model that is both globally informed and locally rooted”


“By working together, we can leverage UN-Habitat’s insights on human-centricity and apply them in the context of Madinah. Moreover, our engagement provides practical, real-world examples to the UN-Habitat ecosystem, enriching the global dialogue on sustainable urban development. This exchange of knowledge and experience is invaluable, as it not only informs our local initiatives but also contributes to a broader understanding of applying human-centric approaches in diverse urban contexts. This synergy is instrumental in shaping an urban development model that is both globally informed and locally rooted,” explains Mangara.

Furthermore, in a clear sign of commitment, that same year, the Urban Observatory at Madinah Region Development Authority issued the Madinah SDGs Voluntary Local Review (VLR) as the first VLR in Saudi Arabia. This VLR covers nine goals of the SDGs: from Goal 1 to Goal 8, and Goal 11. The report comprises Madinah’s sustainable development state in many fields, such as health, education, infrastructure, environment, housing, transport, and others. “Its role as an early leader on Voluntary Local Reviews, in SDG implementation and smart city development in the Arab region, will certainly be an asset as Madinah continues its upward trajectory in these areas,” says Abera Yemeru.

It is worth mentioning that the city holds the distinction of being the first city in Saudi Arabia to engage in the SDG Cities Global Initiative. A clear recognition of the firm commitment of the Saudi city to be an inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable city.

Indeed, Madinah’s efforts are focused on putting the wellbeing of the citizens at the centre and advancing in the direction of SDGs.

celebrate cities for their sustainable development achievements by sharing their promising practices and policies globally.

A well-deserved recognition

Moreover, the city’s participation in the new Quality of Life initiative in 2024 as one of 11 pilot cities will furthermore help bring new rigour to the critical assessment of the quality of life in Madinah, helping the city reach new developmental heights and strive for a better standard of living for all its people.

The pioneering human-centered smart city approach that Madinah has adopted has got international attention and recognition. In the last 12 months, the city has received several international awards from The Netherlands, Russia, China, South Korea, and Morocco.

“The city’s passion and expertise play a pivotal role in not only enriching our collective efforts but also in serving as an inspirational model for other cities in Saudi Arabia and globally. By showcasing Madinah’s focus and actions in sustainable urban development, we aim to encourage and motivate other cities to follow suit.” highlights Aubrey.