Saudi Arabia is investing $ 23 billion to improve living in Riyadh
|King Salman of Saudi Arabia. "Reuters"
Saudi Arabia has said it will spend 86 billion riyals ($ 23 billion) to improve the quality of life in the capital, Riyadh, where green space and entertainment will increase, along with 1,000 teachers and works of art across the city.
The Kingdom unveiled four projects that are part of efforts to open up Saudi society, encourage physical activity and enhance entertainment in the conservative kingdom, as well as reforms aimed at diversifying the economy and reducing its reliance on oil.
The new projects include "King Salman Park Project, Green Riyadh Project, Al Masar Sports Project and Riyadh Art Project," SPA said.
The projects are the latest in a series of planned development investments launched by Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and his son and crown prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman, following the global outrage sparked by the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October and damaging the crown prince.
Government media showed the king and the crown prince reviewing a mini-model of the planned projects, including a four-fold amusement park, Central Park and 135 km of bicycle trails. The king also ordered the crown prince to be named on one of the main roads in the capital.
The killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, sparked international criticism of the crown prince, who was praised by the West for easing social restrictions.
The CIA and some Western countries suspect that Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of Khashoggi, which the Saudi authorities categorically deny.
The kingdom and the crown prince have been criticized for cracking down on dissidents, including the trial of 10 prominent rights activists last week.
While some critics have called for the removal of the crown prince, the king has stood beside his son Ether and his crown prince as Riyadh tries to bypass Khashoggi's death and focus again on reform plans that require huge foreign investment.
The four new projects are scheduled to be operational in the second half of the year and will be phased in between 2023 and 2030. The projects will create 70,000 job opportunities for Saudis and provide investment opportunities worth $ 13.3 billion to local and foreign investors , the Saudi Press Agency said .
One of the initiatives aims to increase the number of green spaces to six times in Riyadh, which is famous for its multi-lane highways and concrete buildings, through the cultivation of 7.5 million trees.The plans also include seven museums, an open art gallery, pedestrian bridges and public parks.
A few years ago, no one imagined the existence of such landmarks in Riyadh, while the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice was roaming the streets to apply strict social norms such as segregation and banning public concerts.
However, life in the capital has become freer in recent years, after the Crown Prince curtailed the authorities of the body and ended the ban on cinemas and began to organize public concerts.Prince Mohammed bin Salman received support from many young Saudis.
While falling oil prices may affect people's living standards in the coming years, improving quality of life is important for political stability.