Vol 8 #1(March 2007).

Planning Theory and Practice, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group,




















Non-Comprehensive Planning Approaches

 for Rapidly Urbanizing Communities.




Ahmed M.Salah Ouf, Ph.D.

Professor of Urban Design, Cairo University, Egypt

Urban Planning and Design Advisor,

Sharjah Directorate of Town Planning and Survey, UAE


November 30, 2005


Planning Approaches for Rapidly Urbanizing Communities.


Prof.  Ahmed M.Salah Ouf,[1]



Rapidly urbanizing communities have been the focus of numerous planning studies during the last few decades because of the difficulty to advise an appropriate urban planning model that explains, predicts, and parallels the rapidity of their contextual change.  Rapid urbanization becomes a bigger planning problem in newly developing countries where planning professionals and planning organizations were not exposed properly to the theoretical developments in the field such as post-modernism, strategic planning, systems planning, vision planning, participatory planning, good governance, etc. 


The United Arab Emirates have been urbanizing incredibly rapid since their federation in 1971 and the creation of the state out of the independent seven trucial emirates.  In such rapidly urbanizing contexts, every few planning actions redefine their planning context and necessitate a plan revision at very close intervals.  Consequently, the comprehensive plans of the early 1970s for some of the emirates proved inappropriate to accommodate the rapidity of change in UAE cities.  A myriad of  more flexible urban planning approaches were experimented with as each emirate was trying to envision its urban future without restricting its development potentials. 


This research examines urban planning models in Sharjah City, the third largest city of the UAE during the last few decades.  The local planning agency in Sharjah (SDTPS) created its own planning model out of its local  political and social conditions.  Though not necessarily perfect or readily replicable to other contexts, it serves the local needs and has proved to be appropriate to the rapidly changing contextual conditions.   There are lessons to be learned from their urban planning experience that might help rapidly urbanizing communities in other parts of the world with similar contextual conditions.


1- Urban planning and Rapid urban growth

As early as the 1960s Meyerson and Banfield argued that planning practice was different from the theory of planning.  More so in rapidly urbanizing societies where future plans need to be continuously modified to cope with development pressures and subtle contextual changes so that theory always lags behind practice.  Rapid changes in the planning contexts challenge the possibility of creating any timely plan as an abiding legal document capable of directing future urban actions.  They cause two main difficulties for any planning agency; first is the little time tolerated for data collection and analysis and second is their incompatibility with time-consuming processes of the urban plan approval and legalization.  In rapidly urbanizing contexts, every few planning actions redefine their planning context and necessitate a plan revision at very close intervals making it almost impossible to have the same urban plan for more than few years.  In one of the fastest growing cities in recent history, the City of Dubai municipality officials claimed in April of 2005 that the city plan is changing by the day (Abdul Raheem &Hattal, 2005).  In Sharjah City, the formal planning agency stopped making any plans after 1986 as it became impractical to create a plan that would need to be altered as soon as it is approved (al-Tunaiji et.al., 2005).  Rapidly urbanizing contexts, such as those of Dubai and Sharjah, need interactive planning approaches that reflect community-wide convictions and provide intelligible information on a short-notice to the decision makers.  Such planning approaches need to allow for countless ends-means and means-ends adjustments according to contextual fluctuations which Lindblom praised in his incrementalist approach (Lindblom and Banfield in Faludi 1973).  However, adopting Incrementalism under the condition of rapid contextual change might complicate the situation even more as planners need to guard against misrepresentation of data to serve the interests of the more powerful stake holders (Etzioni, in Faludi 1973, p.221). 


Faced with the difficulties of rapid urbanization and development, planners still retreat to the rational planning models after decades of reaching a verdict on the invalidity of comprehensive planning

rooted in nineteenth-century concepts of science and engineering, is either dead or severely impaired” (Friedmann in Campbell 2003 p.80)

many of our local communities still have comprehensive planning departments and comprehensive planning projects.  Comprehensive plans for cities, counties and even villages are still being approved and adopted world-wide, many of which are published on the internet as a community service.  The comprehensive planning process is still being taught in planning departments in many parts of the world at least as a logical problem-solving process that is directional and easy to administer and control (Cairo University, United Arab Emirates University, are few that the author was involved with).  In some of the most advanced cities of the world comprehensive planning tutorials are still offered to local municipal staff (see New York Planning Federation tutorials, 2005). Comprehensiveness has always been a term in good currency with the public and the politicians and is still a part of the legal planning vocabulary in many countries of the world (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are few of them that the author could experience personally).  However, the word comprehensive is not used anymore to resemble an ideal vision of planning where full knowledge proceeds action but rather to mean different things in different localities.  One explanation for the persistent usage of the term “comprehensive” (even without its traditional theoretical meaning), is that practitioners “clinged” to modernist sensibility that imposed expertise over democracy (Beauregard pp.118-119 in Campbell 2003).


2- Practice and Theory issues in Rapidly Urbanizing Contexts

From a historic perspective, the history of  Western town planning between 1898 and 1998 was considered in the form of five snapshot pictures taken almost exactly a quarter Century apart.  The key themes for such planning transformations are: the birth of garden city movement, its extension into regional planning, the attempt to create ideal modernist cities, the shift from top-down to grassroot planning, and the attempt to forge a freewheeling entrepreneurial style of urban regeneration (Hall 2004 pp.20-21).  Newly developing communities that were not there when the garden city was introduced, or even when the modernist movement ended by the mid 1970’s, might be getting the sparks of the last three evolutionary stages simultaneously : modernism, grassroot planning, and entrepreneurial style of urban regeneration.  As well, other theoretical and empirical trends that surfaced during the last three decades (such as post-modernism, strategic planning, systems planning, good governance, new urbanism, green urbanization, etc.) were all being noticed simultaneously by planning professionals and planning organizations in the newly developing contexts. 


Though not necessarily representing all the theoretical trends of the whole Century, this five-stage simplification shows that planning practice leaned slowly from being a public service commissioned by the state for the people to being a community-based activity with minimal state intervention.  Ideological changes in the field of planning during the 1980s and 1990s towards more democracy and active user participation made the traditional public notices on the walls of the city hall insufficient.  Staging the proper mechanisms for user participation through user group meetings during the 1990s and through good governance approaches during the 2000’s became a pre-requisite for project funding by major international and UN organizations.  Good governance turned even further into “Democratic governance” to directly tackle the issue of government policy as an end in itself and as a means to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (UNDP- 2005).


However, planning processes that involved user participation mechanisms were not easily adopted in the high-income developing contexts, such as that of the gulf states, for many reasons.  One reason is the rapidity of contextual change that results in changing local interests and the appearance or disappearance of stake holders at a parallel rapidity of change making it difficult to adopt time-consuming user participation mechanisms.  Second, is that such contexts do not require external funding or the involvement of international organizations that would impose the need for more locally-involved planning techniques.


After the demise of the modernist planning model in the mid 1970s, planning theorists started to benefit from other knowledge fields by introducing strategic planning from corporate planning as a planning methodology more than a planning theory with its stated mission, vision and operable objectives (Baum in Campbell 2003).  Strategic planning is less demanding for data than the comprehensive-like planning models, more structured than incrementalism and its disjointed actions, better considerate to the local power structure than advocacy planning, and in-line with good governance approaches that require the cooperation of different levels of the community to determine the desired actions.  However, strategic planning was still “strikingly reminiscent of traditional models of comprehensive rationality” (Baum 2003, p.275).  


The planning experience of Sharjah City is discussed thoroughly in the next part of this research paper as an empirical example of a newly developing and rapidly urbanizing community that has developed its own planning approach to fit its local conditions.


3- Sharjah City Planning Context and the Decision Making Process

United Arab Emirates is located North-East of the Arab Peninsula looking the Arab-Persian Gulf, Sharjah is the third largest city in the UAE.  Sharjah has a long history as a main port city since the beginning of the nineteenth century when the British Navy first entered the gulf to battle al-Quasim in Ras al-Khaimah 1809 and 1819 (Al-Sayegh, 2000, pp.96-97).  First map of Sharjah was drafted by an English navy officer in 1822 showing a small settlement on the creek protected from its surrounding hinterland by a gated defensive wall and the first documented map of the gulf showing Sharjah City was that of 1835.  First aerial photograph of the city was taken in 1935, and urban data started to be available in the form of aerial photographs, travelers’ photographs and notes.  The construction of the Royal Air Force (RAF) station, al-Mahatta as it is known in Arabic,  south of the existing settlement made it a main hub for civil aviation coming from  London to India and the Far-east (Ouf, 2000, pp.76-79). 




Figure 1 : Sharjah City Location in the United Arab Emirates


Sharjah’s traditional economy was based on pearl hunting from the gulf waters, nautical trade, and a little farming and animal breeding on the scarce arable land surrounding the city.  After 1935, trade flourished depending on the RAF station and the city’s fleet of traditional ships that had a long experience in the gulf waters.  Sharjah’s  compact urban area prior to 1970 had its core on the creek where the market, mosques, and sea trade activities were located.  Sharjah is a perfect example of a rapidly urbanizing community  within a newly developing nation that did not go through the garden city or any of the 1900s planning trends up to the late 1960s (Ouf 2000, p.34, pp.60-61).


1935 Aerial photograph  of Sharjah City,  (source: Sharjah Museum)


1971 Aerial photograph of Sharjah City,  (Source:

SDTPS archives 2005)


Figure 2 : Aerial Photographs of Sharjah City


Traditional decision making process in all the Emirates was simple, all tribes and families making the local community are officially recognized by the ruling family through collective consultations and some representatives of each are expected to join the ruler’s public meetings in the “Majlis” (comparable to the city hall, only in the ruler’s quarters). The Majlis was open for anybody who has something to tell to the ruler without even having to tell the guards the reason (Zabal, 2000, p.30).  However, the population boom and socio-economic sophistication of the 1970s and 1980s dictated the formalization of the traditional communication system (al-Aidarous, 1983, p.358). All the Emirates followed Abu-Dhabi Emirate’s footsteps in creating a formal citizen governance system that represents all citizen groups and can direct the government decision-making process.  “Executive” and “Consultative” councils formalized the relations between the government and the different stakeholders of the society (loosely comparable to the lower and upper houses of the Parliament).  According to federal laws, a national or a federal council member needs only to be a citizen, aged over 25 years, has a good reputation, and never involved in a crime or a legal felony.  Nothing in the federal law forbids a female member or that he/she is elected directly by the people if the local community decides to do that (Kasimi,1995, pp.322-323).  However, each of the seven emirates rulers still kept their own public “majlis” as direct communication channels with their people that affect the decision making process in all the emirates even with the presence of both formal government councils.


All the decisions taken and issues discussed in the councils are transparently published in the local papers and sessions discussing the performance of any governmental agency or a pressing issue are even aired on the local TV network.  Though not the model of Western Democracy, it fits the good governance models adopted by international organizations as it allows for each and every individual to express his/her opinions if user group meetings are called for.  Having this background about the local decision making process in Sharjah, urban planning processes had to respect both the traditional decision making process prior to 1998 and the formal system monitored by the executive and consultative councils after their creation in 1998.


4- Sharjah Urban Planning

First urban planning trial for Sharjah City was at 1969.  The plan extended the city inland as the new economic base was not dependent on the creek and superimposed the first vehicular road network over the pedestrian-based original city fabric.  The plan showed the first human effort to interfere in the city’s natural settings by re-shaping the marshes adjacent to the city into a blue lagoon and engineering the creek banks for better trade performance.  Sharjah’s 1969 plan was quite imaginative as it introduced industry for the first time and envisioned tripling the size of the city’s residential areas in the following decade.  In the absence of any written documents on the making of the plan, the plan did not seem to have any formal planning studies as none were found in the SDTPS archives and the interviewees confirmed that author’s observation.  The creation of the plan did not seem to depend on reliable data or good understanding of the dynamics of change for the city’s future economic base.  One example is the designation of industrial land use on the city creek and Lagoon, in conformity with the early 20th century industrial planning concepts that used water bodies for transport and industrial cooling.  Another example is that the 1969 Plan engulfed the airport within the proposed urban development without due consideration to its impacts on traffic, safety of city residents, or pollution.  By 1986, most of the 1969 plan area was developed not necessarily for the designated land uses e.g. :  RAF airport was removed and its land used for residential and commercial activities while the old airport runway was re-used as one of the city’s main roads. 


Figure 3 : 1969 Plan of Sharjah, (source: SDTPS archives, 2005)


The 1969 plan was a pure physical endeavor with no evidence on whether it was considered a grid plan, a structure plan, a vision plan or a concept plan as it only read as “Sharjah Plan up to 1980”.  It was clearly carried out as a public service by appointed expert staff working for the government according to the dyadic client-expert model.  The traditional decision-making process was sufficient to legitimize the plan as user participation was not yet an expected part of the planning process.  I might safely conclude that the 1969 plan was a “technocratic” endeavor by planning “experts” for a “client” who could solicit people’s opinions satisfactorily through the traditional communication system “majlis”.  Rationality of the plan was derived from the experts’ capabilities to predict the future socio-economic developments.


No documents are available to explain the execution of the plan, however, interviews with those who worked for the municipality during early 1980s stressed that other than housing, every lot of developable land and every new major development was individually approved by the ruler himself.  Flexibility in land-use designation was necessary to match the changing socio-economic context of the city.  The area of residential plots of land had to increase to allow for more living amenities resulting in expanding the residential areas to accommodate the same number of plots.  Commercial developments were approved in previously designated industrial or residential areas, higher buildings were approved in many parts of the city, and wider roads commissioned through out the city.  It became the conviction of the city government and the city ruler that Sharjah was growing much faster than can any plan predict, thence a responsive decision making mechanism was necessary to guide future development instead of a detailed city plan (al-Tunaiji, et al., April, 2005).


5- Rapid Urban Change of the 1980s

In 1986 another physical plan was created by the planning department of the municipality as “Sharjah 2000 Plan” that became the main zoning scheme for steering city development up till now.  Similar to the first plan, there were no documents or accompanying studies in the archives and direct user participation component was not still a part of the process.  However, the involvement of a British consulting firm with the city government in all their development efforts during that period suggests that the supporting studies might had been directly submitted to the ruler but not to the municipality.  The plan was followed afterwards “flexibly” as the context was showing clear signs of unpredictability with rapid social, technological and economic transformations.  The traditional economy of fishermen, traders and pearl divers was replaced by an economy of oil revenues, consumption trade and services.  The traditional closed social structure was opened up to accommodate expatriates who made at least 80% of the population in 1995 (Sharjah Statistical year book, 2002).


The author’s evaluation of the urban situation prior to the preparation of the 1986 structure plan proved that urban development had been departing on a much faster pace than was predicted earlier.  Proposed urban developments for the year 2000 were more than double that of 1986 as Large areas of previously conserved land close to the Northern borders were converted to highly demanded expatriate housing, and land on the Eastern urban limit into mixed residential developments for higher income groups.  More industrial areas were envisioned and the expected city limits for the year 2000 were lined with the new international airport, an army camp and laborer quarters. 



Figure 4 : Sharjah 1986 Plan, SDTPS Archives



Population figures might be obtained mainly from two sources, Sharjah Directorate for Economic Development (SDED) or SDTPS showing some data variations.  SDED estimated that Sharjah Emirate population sore to 679250  by the Year 2001 putting the city population at 545000 people attaining a 6% annual population increase during that six year period (SDED 2005).  Development of Sharjah is not expected to slow down yet as its economy is directly affected by the booming economy of neighboring Dubai.


(1975, 1980, 1985 & 1995 are official census data, 2003 data from sample field survey, and 1935 an estimate in Anderson 1995)


Source :

SDTPS 2004


Figure 5 : Population growth in Sharjah




Sharjah’s urban mass had to match that rapid population growth by increasing its urban mass from 2.3 square kilometers in 1960 to 22 sq.km. in 1970 to an almost 65sq.Km in 1985 and it was expected to reach 103 sq.Km. by the year 2000.  However, the city’s developed area reached 54.7 sq.km. in 1990 (excluding the 32.5 sq.Km airport) according to a federal survey map and 227 sq.km. in 2005 as per the official maps of the SDTPS.    The rate of urban sprawl for Sharjah between 1988 and 2005 mounted up to an almost 9.5 sq.km. per year and ended with more than double 1993 expectations of the city sprawl for the year two thousand (all area numbers are Author’s calculations from the actual maps and from Saeed 1993).  Economic and population changes were much faster than the capacity of any master plan to cope with , thence the 1986 plan was adopted onward as a relaxed zoning vision for Sharjah’s urban future. 


The booming economy of that period added to the capability of the government to take a more active role in social welfare and service provision while fueling the traditionally capitalist economy with more resources.  Sharjah’s private sector became a major stakeholder in its urban and economic development that challenged the validity of the dyadic model of the government as a client and the planner as an expert and mandated active private sector involvement in the process.  Consequently, producing another urban plan through an expert/client process like that of 1986 or 1969 was not possible afterwards.  


6- Case-by-Case Planning and Strategic Thinking


The practice of directing urban growth through a sequence of short-term and medium-term visions was popular in many parts of the world such as the city of Barcelona:

We might almost say that a city works with “visions” of its future in the mid term, which are linked to fairly precisely proposals for some elements – infrastructure, landscape, macro-geography, etc..  Busqquets, in Robbins and el-Khoury edit. 2004, p21

In many ways Sharjah City was applying similar short and medium term visions to direct future urban development after 1986.  From the author’s experience in Sharjah city urban planning mechanism; the culture of private entrepreneurship in Sharjah welcomed  these short and medium-term visions because of their simulation to strategic planning procedures followed in corporate business.  The process works like this: an objective or a problem facing the city would be brought to the attention of SDTPS through the executive council, the ruler, or as a SDTPS proposal resulting in a purposive urban plan for one of the city’s urban areas and not a city-wide plan.  SDTPS proposal is then discussed in the executive council and then diffused to other government bodies to be matched in infrastructure development, road building, finance, police and fire services … etc.  Infrastructure developments were adjusted to such short and medium-term phasing, as six phases of the city’s sewage plant opened so far with a seventh stage planned to be put in service in December 2007 and be completely functional in December of 2008 (Sharjah Municipality e-Portal, 3rd May, 2005).  Connecting newly developed residential and industrial areas to water mains, sewage system, and electricity was always phased according to actual site developments for each city district.  Economic efficiency and timely allocation of government funds for public utilities are good reasons for phasing expensive infrastructure resources. The theory behind such planning actions might be linked to Incrementalism and strategic thinking, or action plans within a broad vision as I might discuss it later.


This interactive urban planning context necessitated major changes to the “process” of planning and its linkages to the community and to the government.   The success of this planning process necessitated a more active involvement of SDTPS with Sharjah’s development stakeholders to compensate for the absence of an updated legally-binding document (a plan).  A daunting job that required the development of an interactive decision making process that can give authority to SDTPS case-by-case decisions. 


6-1- Authority, legality and representation

Procedures to bring authority to the planning process started by recruiting more qualified staff for the municipality’s department of town planning since 1985 through personnel recommended by the UNDP (Cobold, 2005).  Second was the development of the municipality’s department of planning into Sharjah Directorate of Town Planning and Survey (SDTPS) as an independent government organization responsible for monitoring and directing urban development in 1998.  Third was the creation of direct links between SDTPS and the city’s political system to make sure that urban development was catering to the aspirations and needs of the population.  To do that, top ranking positions at SDTPS are individually approved by the executive council members and the Director General (DG) to SDTPS by virtue of his position serves as a member of Sharjah’s Executive Council.  The DG has to attend the weekly meetings of the council and is expected to bring major new developments and projects to the attention of the council.  More importantly, SDTPS is mandated to present its yearly achievements to the Consultative council where its members and the general public can put their complaints and concerns about it.  The DG has to attend an urban development committee every other week in the ruler’s office to discuss issues of concern with all those involved in urban development from the government and the private sector. In addition, SDTPS initiated a public utility coordination committee to bring those involved in providing water, sewage, electricity, roads, communication, and security together on weekly basis.  If not completely in-tune with the pulse of the public and the Emirate’s governing councils, SDTPS gets formal recommendations for reform from the Consultative Council that need to be fulfilled within a given time frame.


The course of action followed by SDTPS might be described as “orchestrated incremental action plans within a broad vision”, where different urban districts are planned according to their arising timely needs.  However, the final urban product proved not to be patchy or “disjointed” mainly due to the good involvement of SDTPS in the local political process.


6-2 Action Plans within a Broad Vision

The first planning concern when incremental plans are considered is the possible heterogeneity of the product as that of Los Angeles (Singley, p. 99) as opposed to the homogeneity of  Brazilia (el-Dahdah, P.46).   Sharjah urban planning presents a case where each planning action is thoroughly evaluated for its impact on the city at its time of  adoption, and development objectives are periodically determined for SDTPS by the Consultative and the Executive Councils according to local circumstances.  Consequently, each action plan adds up towards an overall vision of the city that is not written anywhere, but gets shaped out of the general zoning concept that was initiated in 1986 each time a new development is approved.


No target year and no urban growth limits were ever necessary for Sharjah, as all development objectives were transitional for the sake of a final overall target of improving urban quality of life.  Unlimited urban growth was viewed as a good response to the changing economic and social circumstances and no city limits were ever planned after 1969 as the city grew freely into the hinterland whenever there was a need for more development.   In that respect, SDTPS closely monitors and rigorously controls all industrial, residential, and commercial development proposals as an advocate of the people because of the continuous political scrutiny over its activities.  It plays the role of a facilitator, reticulist and a technocrat.


Action plans within a broad vision necessitated that every new development is evaluated by SDTPS in the light of its predecessor planning actions in its time frame.  To mention one example, shopping malls as a new commercial phenomenon in neighboring Dubai during the 1990s was starting to drain Sharjah’s purchasing powers.  The city government encouraged investors to develop shopping malls in different parts of the city as long as they provide credible Traffic-Impact assessments and proper feasibility studies.  Consequently, the development of a large shopping mall in the first industrial district on Sharjah-Dubai road was approved in the year 2000 despite the prior designation of the area for industrial use.  More shopping malls followed in other city districts:  Sahara and al-Ansar shopping malls in al-Nahda residential area, al-Fallah shopping mall and Pan-Emirates furniture warehouse in industrial district number four, and Mega Mall in Bu-Danek residential district. 


Figure 6 : Partial map of Sharjah showing commercial developments approved in the industrial areas because of an ever changing urban context.


Another unpredicted action plan was the creation of the University City as a signature land-use for Sharjah city to capitalize on its earned reputation as the cultural capital for the UAE and cultural capital of the Arab World at 1998 by UNESCO.  It accommodates a diverse spectrum of educational facilities ranging from the American University of Sharjah, University of Sharjah Men Campus and Women Campus, College of Fine Arts, Eitisalat University, Police Academy, College of Medicine, in addition to a large reserve area for future extensions.  The University area was developed at the city borders next to industry and its immediate industrial district (industrial area number fourteen) had its land plots re-designated for educational services, residence and retail services (Muwaileh Commercial district).  The incremental concept of development is evident in the university city area as the next step to the approval of the university city campus was to alter the use of its More amendments  to the area’s land-use plan is still to be envisioned in order to accommodate the evolving needs of the University City campuses.  The road network, parking patterns, and vehicular circulation around university area would soon need to be modified to cater for the new traffic patterns and modes of transportation.


Figure 7 :  University City Campus in Sharjah

7- Epilogue, and Future expectations.


The process of creating short to medium term action plans within a broad vision of the future seems to be working for determining the urban future of Sharjah City.  However, it would not have worked for the city if it was not for the overall structural changes in the organization of the urban planning process and linking it directly to the political and communal spheres of the community.


The issues of authority, legality and good representation were central to the improvement of the urban planning process so that each planning action is monitored and approved by the executive and consultative councils.  However, that hybrid urban planning system is highly demanding on the involved planners and on the top management of SDTPS who spend part of their time networking and corresponding with community stakeholders and formal entities.  The absence of a legally-binding plan is taking its toll on the work load of SDTPS and reduces their capability to propose improvements to the city’s urban developments.


The benefits of such an interactive urban planning process was clear for phasing infrastructure systems development, rapid response to arising economic opportunities in the region, and the ability to adjust to changing contextual pressures.  Theoretical justification for that process cannot be simplified as incrementalism or strategic thinking alone as it bridges the shortcomings of both.  Action plans within a broad vision, is a hybrid urban planning system that proved effective in directing Sharjah’s urban development that is need of more research if it is to be applied in similar rapidly developing contexts.




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Sharjah Municipality e-Portal:  http://www.shjmun.gov.ae


Interviews with:

  1. Khaled Butai, Director of Survey, SDTPS, June 2005,
  2. Cobson Cobold, Senior team leader, GIS department, SDTPS, October 2005

[1] Professor of Urban design, Cairo University,  and Urban Planning and Design Advisor to Sharjah Directorate of  Town Planning and Survey.   Researching urban planning practice in Sharjah’s context required tapping the available resources in Arabic and a set of interviews with government officials that was only possible after years of trust.  This research paper is my way of paying back their trust with useful analysis and good understanding that might guide future urban planning actions in Sharjah.