Jeddah skyline Saudi Arabia
File picture of Jeddah Image Credit: Bloomberg

As the Covid-19 fractured school year draws to a brief lull with the midterm break, cities across the kingdom are gearing up for an influx of visitors.

Jeddah is no exception. A city that in recent years has been trying to catch up with Dubai in their offerings to visitors has also witnessed a tremendous boom in support facilities that cater to everyday tourists.

Some 192 hotels with a total of 11,004 rooms of various star ratings as well as 670 furnished apartment buildings with 13,561 housing units have been readied to receive the visitors. In addition to this, some 76 tourism parks have also been refurbished to allow families to maintain their outdoor activities, albeit with strict social distancing. Tourism translates into revenue, and the kingdom has taken this to heart in promoting venues geared to attract one and all. Such events are bound to heighten Jeddah’s various economic and commercial venues and interests, in spite of the current COVID-19 squeeze. There is a silver lining after all, as all those domestic dollars would be spent within the country’s borders.

However, for some inexplicable reason, that zeal and fervour in the actual effort of trying to make our city look somewhat better and more appealing to our visitors do not match up to the ground realities in some areas that somehow seems to escape the attention of those busily engaged in drawing up such plans.

To drive home the point, a resident European lady reached out to me with what she sees during her daily walks along Jeddah’s sidewalks.

‘During my routine, I pass almost daily in front of the former office building of the Jeddah Governor. The building is nice, but since the day the Governor moved to his new office building no care was taken any more of it and the garden. Meanwhile, trees died, grass and weeds are growing. Why not take care of this building and preserve it, or use it for something else instead of letting it just go to ruin?

‘Opposite this building, there is a park … It is still being used by families, but has become quite a dangerous playground for children as stones and glass splinters are lying around, plants are not taken care of, and there are some deep holes in the grass. It shows a lack of proper maintenance.

Indeed, it is not all to be blamed on city officials. For the litter decorating the park instead of pretty coloured flowers, the people should also share the blame along with the authorities as it is an unfortunate fact that people use the whole city as a waste-bin. I agree that there are not enough waste-bins around. The behaviour of some of the inhabitants here displays a lack of respect toward other people.

I have personally witnessed on the few odd times that I ventured out on some neighbourhoods that there were dirt and rubbish is everywhere, with drain covers missing, bushes crowding into the sidewalks and preventing people from the easy passageway and forcing them to walk on the street. How many times one sees road-sign poles bent and lying on the ground instead of nice plants on the ground.

The lack of civic respect shows up frequently with drivers often blocking pedestrians by leaving their cars on the sidewalk with the same effect for pedestrians: the only place left to walk is the street. Regardless of how much the city or traffic authorities can do to inspect the status of the streets, sidewalks, parks, and buildings, it begins with us, the residents of the city.? Can anything be done towards the lack of respect and love for their environment?

Yes, it can. It begins with educating the masses at grass roots levels; in kindergarten and grade schools the importance of taking care of your city and surroundings. Parents are the best teachers and an errant father who flips trash out of his moving vehicle with his child sitting in the rear seat and intently watching his actions is not one such good example. Cleanliness is a virtue stressed often in our religion and yet it seems that some pay lip service when it comes to the environment beyond them.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena