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Reading: Revitalizing Historic City Centers through an Integrated Approach: Arab City of Sanaa in Yemen


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Revitalizing Historic City Centers through an Integrated Approach: Arab City of Sanaa in Yemen


Abbas A. F. Al-Warafi

University of Bahrain, BH
About Abbas A. F.
Department of Architecture and Interior Design
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The rapid urbanization in the developing world has brought about insurmountable challenges to the inner historic quarters. With the population increase and improved economies, the middle class and the rich abandon the old quarters in preference for the wealthy suburbs while the poor find abandoned city core affordable. Historic inner cities thus become ghettos with their traditional owners fleeing the old buildings or actively destroying its very fabric by abandoning them to decay.


Old quarters provide the historical memories of the cities, their cultural base and a layer of the city identity. Their urban contexts are generally rich with a strong sense of place both the citizens and the countrymen cherish and would want to retain. Allowed to decay, such cities will lose a significant part of their identity. Thus, they must make concrete efforts to protect the historical urban contexts and revitalize the old quarters to ensure that their streets and spaces remain alive. This indeed requires their economic base rejuvenated and links to the surrounding modern cities reinforced. More than just restorations of few buildings, this is a herculean task of urban revitalization. To transform these urban quarters, it is necessary to create a powerful upward spiral of investments and rising incomes among their inhabitants as well as social engineering leading to social cohesion to restore the inherent vitality and unique charm of these city centres, by strategic interventions. If an integrated approach is taken, these regions can be made to flourish naturally.


This paper examines one such historic city center in the Arab region; Sana‘a in Yemen, which has faced the dire consequences of urbanization. Although different geographical contexts may have their own issues, there are universal lessons to be learned from an in-depth study of the walled city of Sana'a as a typical Arab city. The study employs a case study approach, and through physical observations and documentary evidence, it constructs an integrated framework that considers the physical characters, socio-cultural realities, planning and development controls and economic processes. The paper divulges the inherent obstacles that prevail in Sana‘a and offers ways and means of overcoming these to transform them in particular and Arab cities in general. If done well, they may thrive as urban hubs they used to be, sustaining their populations and re-utilizing an enormous wealth of buildings, spaces, and systems that would otherwise perish under the pressure of urbanization.
How to Cite: Al-Warafi, A.A.F., 2019. Revitalizing Historic City Centers through an Integrated Approach: Arab City of Sanaa in Yemen. Cities People Places : An International Journal on Urban Environments, 4(1), pp.31–46. DOI:
Published on 30 Oct 2019.
Peer Reviewed


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