Riyadh: Massive Change

In this final episode on transit and public space, the New York TimesVivian Nereim shares the accelerated transformation of Riyadh as Saudi Arabia attempts to make its capital more livable and attractive to investors and visitors. Sarah David, a Kenyan domestic, talks about getting around the city, and transport expert Benjamin de la Peña discusses the one-size fits-all approach to transforming transit systems globally and how decolonisation might be vital to achieving real change.

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Riyadh, a city of 8 million people, is "very much kind of sprawling, high walls and very beige," says New York Times Gulf bureau chief Vivian Nereim. When she relocated there in 2015, it was "what you might call a hardship posting." Over the years, she has witnessed it embark on an accelerated transformation to make it more livable and a magnet for investors and visitors worldwide.

When he announced his Vision 2030 project, Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman described it as an ambitious yet achievable blueprint to "build a thriving country in which all citizens can fulfill their dreams, hopes and ambitions." Riyadh has been a test-bed for these ambitions, and it shows.

In July 2013, three years before his announcement, the Saudi government awarded nearly US$23 billion in contracts for designing and constructing the King AbdulAziz public transport system, also called Riyadh Metro. This project will soon connect the sprawling city.

Sarah David, a Kenyan domestic worker employed as a housemaid for several families in Riyadh, is cautiously optimistic about the difference the new system will have on her commute across the city and whether it will make it any easier for her to reach the multiple households she works in weekly. She spends a sizable portion of her earnings on app-based ride-hailing systems that are more reliable than any currently available alternatives. While it's clear the metro will be more affordable, she worries it might not be connected enough to conveniently take her where she needs to go. How the metro will connect to other last-mile modes remains to be seen.

Vivian shares this concern and wonders whether residents can be easily persuaded to adapt to a metro system in a city where the private car is king.

In this final of three episodes, Benjamin de la Peña, chair of the Global Partnership for Informal Transportation, a think-tank based in Chicago, asks us to consider how decolonising transport could relate to the city, and many others like it, struggling to build better transit for their citizens.

This season, we visit Medellin, Johannesburg, and Riyadh. The City Show is looking at how improving mobility and public spaces can make cities more liveable. We