Kuwait plans new metropolis as ‘Silk City’

Owen Bowcott

London: Oil prices have so swollen Kuwait’s national coffers that the petroleum-rich state is to invest $132 billion on its ambitious “Silk City” at the head of the Gulf, it emerged on Tuesday.

The extraordinary scale of the metropolis — a 1,001-metre skyscraper, wildlife reserves, and homes for 700,000 people — is matched by a plan to also build an international rail network linking it to Damascus, Baghdad, Iran and China.

Inspired by Dubai’s spectacular growth, the Madinat al-Hareer, or Silk City, is intended to create a trading future and a diversified economy at a city which would become a crossroads of the Arab world.

“We are not dreamers at all when we talk about investing $132 billion,” insisted Sami Alfaraj, president of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies and an adviser to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a group of six mostly oil-rich Gulf states.

“We’re thinking on a different plane, because we cannot afford to think like everyone else. We’re thinking about something that might seem unimaginable,” he said in London, where he is holding meetings on the project. “We’re going to outmanoeuvre everybody who is going to remain in the old mode of thinking about economic prospects.” One aim of the project is to improve relations with Israel.

The London-based architects Eric R Kuhne & Associates have drawn up designs for the city. The firm is awaiting Kuwaiti government approval to start construction, due to finish by 2023.

The name “City of Silk” evokes the prosperity of the medieval trade route that linked Europe to China via West Asia. Kuwait wants to link its city by rail to Damascus, to Baghdad, to Iran and all the way beyond. “This is where we want to put our money. We want to build railways all the way to China,” said Mr. Alfaraj, who also advises the government on security. He added that talks had been held with Iran since 1998, and with other countries. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2008

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