Resource Urbanisms

Asia’s divergent city models of Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Hong Kong

This report presents the key findings of the Resource Urbanisms project that LSE Cities at the London School
of Economics and Political Science led between 2015 and 2017. This research, supported by the Kuwait Programme at the LSE Middle East Centre investigated questions of urban form, geography and sustainability in Kuwait and the Gulf States as part of a broader comparative analysis of divergent forms of urban growth in Asia. Given the distinct patterns of urban development, and the central role of land availability and natural resources, particularly oil, in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, this research focused on two natural resources, land and energy, and explored their relationships with urban form, transport and housing. It analysed these relationships through a comparative case study approach focusing on the city of Kuwait and Abu Dhabi in the GCC, and Hong Kong and Singapore in East Asia. Both the GCC and East Asian case studies are cities with similar income levels, but exhibit contrasting forms of urban development. More importantly, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi are endowed with vast amounts of natural resources, while Hong Kong and Singapore possess limited natural resources, making them useful and contrasting cases for comparative purposes.

The research had four main objectives: first, it analysed the models of urban development that have emerged in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Hong Kong and Singapore through an inter-urban and intra-urban comparison. Second, it  compared the GCC models of urbanisation (Kuwait and Abu Dhabi) with the contrasting forms of development in Hong Kong and Singapore. Third, it provided fresh evidence on the relationship between the built environment, land availability and energy costs, with a particular focus on transport and urban form as well as housing and urban morphology. Finally, it sought to better understand the dynamics between the availability and costs of resources, government interventions, urban form and infrastructure, and environmental outcomes.

The key findings of this research were:
01 The shape of cities has a considerable impact on resource efficiency, making it a critical factor for global

02 There are fundamental differences between the city models examined in the Gulf States compared to those
in East Asia.

03 All cities displayed considerable intra-urban differences that exceed initial expectations.

04 All four cities have become denser since 2000, but historically have been going through phases of densification and de-densification.

05 All four cities rely on active state intervention and have been shaped by intentional policy, planning and
infrastructure development.

06 Natural resources, above all land, play a central role in determining urban form at the macro and micro scale.

07 Energy prices have a more nuanced and indirect impact on the nature of urban growth.

08 Non-resource factors impacting urban development were found to be critical, complex and often interrelated.

09 In terms of energy consumption, the study confirms that high-density, compact, mixed-use and public transport-oriented cities are more efficient than low density cities that are dependent on private vehicles.

10 Cooling energy efficiency is centrally driven by compact urban morphologies and building designs.

11 Transport energy efficiency is closely related to density, mixed-use and public transport availability.