Saudi Arabia is spending its oil riches to build cities for the country’s exploding population, trying to become an economic power. Richard Florida sees them as “monuments to materialism.”

This one reminds me of California’s Foster City, an exurb built completely on landfill. A network of lagoons gives many houses waterfront access, but it’s cul-de-sac garden city planning taken to an extreme, with almost nothing within walking distance (boating distance, maybe). Will Saudi Arabia emulate America’s sprawl or create denser, transit-oriented, walkable cities?

Will these new cities have the public spaces and plazas of European cities or be the crowded, over-commercialized cities of Asia? The Times writes of the old capital, “Riyadh looks like a boom town: sprawling over 40 miles, it is teeming with shopping malls, electronics stores and luxury boutiques.” With large amounts of land, will the Saudis model their cities on Europe’s grand centers or Asia’s clusters of mall sprawl?

Update: Abu Dhabi (in the UAE) is doing it, with a brand-new city, Masdar, that will be entirely car-free. The city will use Personal Rapid Transit guideways for all movement. As Streetsblog says, “And while PRT might not make for the friendliest pedestrian environment, how nice does public space really need to be when the daytime temperature hovers around 90 degrees five months of the year?”

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.