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Socio-spatial practice of migrant communities in Doha's traditional core : the case of Al Asmakh district

Salama, Ashraf M. and Azzali, Simona and Wiedmann, Florian (2016) Socio-spatial practice of migrant communities in Doha's traditional core : the case of Al Asmakh district. In: 7th Annual Gulf Research Meeting, 2016-08-16 - 2016-08-19, University of Cambridge. (In Press)

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Abstract

This paper is based on an extensive research undertaken at Qatar University in 2014 with the aim of exploring the social-spatial practice of migrant communities in Doha’s traditional core. Since new development strategies have been initiated in Gulf cities, the old historic centres have faced a rapid transformation process. Today, large scale investments in new developments in Doha’s traditional centre have led to a new challenge to prevent the complete social restructuring and the move of all residing migrant communities, particularly those who have settled in Doha for generations, from the centre to other newly urbanized areas. While large-scale projects, such as Msheireb regeneration and redevelopment, have led to the replacement of an entire district, there have been fragmented development initiatives to gradually upgrade existing urban structures in central areas. The district of the Al Asmakh is one of the most important examples that manifest the current conflict to mediate between rising investment pressures and preserving the local identity including the particular urban life and spatial economic settings, which have evolved over several decades. The paper presents new research outcomes with respect to the lived urban spaces of the Al Asmakh in order to illustrate the potential loss of very distinctive neighbourhoods and to introduce particular characteristics of urban spaces and the way migrant communities appropriate them. The socio-spatial practice of these communities is explored to identify their impact on contemporary urban spaces as well as the future challenges of providing efficient urban environments for social groups with limited purchasing power. Methodologically, as part of a learning experiment undertaken at Qatar University, structured field surveys, environmental systematic observations as well as behavioural mapping are adopted as important approaches to investigation. While the investigation reveals interesting dynamics between migrant communities and their environments, it also postulate that city residents have capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness in spite of a domineering and hampering context. The paper concludes with projections of how contemporary transformation processes in Gulf cities will have to be based on social inclusion and the recognition that migrant communities need to have access to develop their own settings that relate to their needs and routine spatial practices while securing the economic basis of many migrants and providing better living standards for all communities. The initiation of holistic and integrated development strategies is of high significance for both the preservation of historic districts in order to secure the roots of Doha as well as for migrant communities, who are facing the potential loss of their businesses and familiar surroundings.