A summary


First, Riyadh and most cities in Saudi Arabia has a fragmented or inefficient public transport system. Second, speculative rural subdivisions happen on the city outskirts. Third, there is a lack of affordable housing in the city. Fourth, most neighbourhoods are lacking quality and urban restoration efforts are required. Last, infrastructure efforts are not coordinated sufficiently between government entities. In other words, the regulation that do exist is rarely followed or punished if not followed.


Riyadh MEDSTAR has set the framework for the establishment of a TOD system around upcoming metro stations. The metro opens up opportunities for the development of sub-centres. This is set to make Riyadh a polycentric city. For that reason residents remotely located will have better access to services and employment opportunities. Moreover, this will reduce the car dependency and number of commuters to the city centre. Also, it will provide more affordable housing options outside the city centre. The plan also sets the scene for higher densities and providing urban quality to local neighbourhoods.  

In 1917 Riyadh was described as a city “completely encircled” by mud walls. The city wall was 1,7 kilometers long and 7.5 meters high, and accommodated an estimated population of 12,000 – 15,000 people.

It wasn’t until 1972 that a proper Master Plan for the city was established. It was developed with a strict “super” grid structure (similar to what you can find in New York and Barcelona). The blocks within the grid were 2km in width and 2km in length. The government’s intent for the city plan was to establish an urban strategy. This strategy was supposed to guide and enable the expansion and development of Riyadh until year 2000. However, due to the oil boom the plan was adjusted in 1978 in accordance with the population growth.

In the end of the 1990s, the government created Riyadh MEDSTAR. This was the first comprehensive regulatory framework carried out for Riyadh. Since it was established, it has been revised only once in 2011. Nevertheless, it is expected to be revised in 2020/21.


High-Rise Buildings

Population (region)

Land Area (Sq.km)


The current and most important urban planning framework tool was developed by the Royal Commission for Riyadh City (together with the consultants Parsons and Dar Ar-Riyadh). Namely the Metropolitan Development Strategy for Arriyadh, or more commonly known as Riyadh MEDSTAR.

Currently, two MEDSTAR reports have been developed since its inception. The first MEDSTAR was developed in 1997 and approved in 2001. Meanwhile, the second and current MEDSTAR was developed in 2009 and approved in 2011. A third edition of the MEDSTAR is currently under development, and is anticipated approved by 2021.


Riyadh MEDSTAR is divided into 11 books. The books provide a comprehensive analysis and insight into the future strategy for various sectors. The books include the following:

  1. Overview of the MEDSTAR.
  2. Arriyadh Metropolitan Structure Plan 2030.
  3. Arriyadh – The National Capital City.
  4. Residential Development.
  5. Commerce.
  6. Industry.
  7. Transportation.
  8. Infrastructure.
  9. Environment & Open Space.
  10. Urban Governance.
  11. Implementation Program.

The most important book in terms of MEDSTAR is book 2. This book specifically deals with the Arriyadh Metropolitan Structure Plan 2030.

The current MEDSTAR has identified a number of challenges Riyadh is facing. As a result of the rapid growth, the plan attempts to resolve these challenges through the following:


  • Plan and develop the Central Area (Capital City Area);
  • Develop a high profile Central Business District;
  • Increase density near key public transport stations;
  • Develop sub‐centres around the Central Area;
  • Develop the Airport Precinct as a key economic and employment district;
  • Prevent speculative rural subdivisions;
  • Provide affordable housing options across the city;
  • Simplify the zoning proposals in MEDSTAR;
  • Manage and carry out urban restoration plans in the old town of Riyadh;
  • Improve and coordinate the planning of infrastructure within redevelopment and development areas.

The greatest impact of Riyadh MEDSTAR is the spatial re-structuring of the city. This includes the shift from a mono-centric city to a poly-centric city, and thereby creating a number of sub-centres on the urban fringe.

For more information read the Magazine.


Riyadh MEDSTAR - Strategic Plan 2030 - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Urban Planning

Riyadh MEDSTAR Strategic City Plan 2030

Riyadh MEDSTAR - Land Use Plan Zoning Plan - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Urban Planning

Riyadh MEDSTAR Zoning Plan 


1. Sports Boulevard: A planned city boulevard aiming to encourage Riyadh’s citizens to live a healthy lifestyle.

2. Riyadh Art: Art installation project aiming to install more than 1,000 artworks and landmarks in the city.

3. Green Riyadh: A Greening project aiming to plant 7.5 million trees within parks, public facilities, roads/streets, parking spaces and wadies.

4. King Salman Park: A park planned to be the biggest urban park in the world. It will have a green area larger than 13sq.km (4 times Central Park).

For more information read the Magazine.


King Salman Park in Riyadh - Worlds Largest Park (4 times larger than New York Central Park - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Urban Planning

Illustration of the planned King Salman Park 


Public transport options has existed in Saudi Arabia for more than 100 years. This started with the Hejaz Railway. However, the first city-wide proper metro system is being put into operation in 2020. Riyadh Metro will be the first city- wide metro system in Saudi Arabia when it completes. The metro is well underway in the construction phase. A soft opening of the metro is planned in 2020. The automated metro will have 6 lines with a total length of 176km and 85 stations across the city

Riyadh Metro is one of the most ambitious and urban transformative public transportation projects in newer times. It will bring about city-wide changes including increased accessibility, affordability, density and living quality

For more information read the Magazine.

Riyadh Metro Subway - Public Transportation and Mobility - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - Urban Planning

Illustration of Riyadh Metro


Read Riyadh’s MEDSTAR documents relating to the Strategic Planning and Future of the City: Riyadh MEDSTAR Report

Check the Building regulations and Land Use for each plot in Riyadh. See link to this online interactive platform: Riyadh’s Building Regulations and Land Use

Read about the current Urban Development Projects happening in Riyadh City: Urban Development Projects


A $500 Billion City

A $500 Billion City is planned to be built next to Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh and the Red Sea on Saudi Arabia’s mainland. The City carried the following futuristic vision: 

The land of the future, where the greatest minds and best talents are empowered to embody pioneering ideas and exceed boundaries in a world inspired by imagination” (Neom.com).

With NEOM, Saudi Arabia is trying to attract attention from the World. The government is attempting to build a sustainable city never seen before, with “fresh thinking and new solutions”. However the question is, can such a large city development really be sustainable? Find out in the Magazine Issue featuring Saudi Arabia’s Urban Planning.

Photo: The 26,500 sq.km of land planned to be developed into NEOM (34 times the size of Singapore).

Neom, Tabuk, Saudi Arabia - NEOM $500 Billion City - Aerial View KSA - Urban Planning

Magazine - #04 Saudi Arabia

To learn more about Urban Planning in Riyadh and Saudi Arabia, read the Magazine.