Gulf futuristic cities beyond the headlines: Understanding the planned cities megatrend
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Cities of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region have harboured impressive architecture conveying modernity and affluence. GCC countries are increasingly reshaping the face of their urban areas through the development of futuristic planned cities. These cities are competing for labels that show design innovations and energy-efficient technologies. This paper goes behind the headlines and self-labelling, and compares the region’s major planned cities in terms of the nature of the urban development models. It proposes a techno-social framework to characterize the cities based on the criteria of access and innovation. The assessment shows that most developments resemble infrastructure upgrade via digital and smart cities. While ecological innovations are incorporated in urban design, they are limited to few livable cities. Most representative cities for sustainability are either small theme cities or yet to be completed. Economization and mega-events are largely fuelling urban development, with open outcomes on the success to attract long-term residents, and the level of contribution to the region’s low-carbon future.