The modernization of Saudi Arabia has been a recent and rapid phenomenon. Here we see two aspects of this transformation: explosive urbanization and center-pivot irrigation. Both are visible in and near Riyadh from 1972 to 2016.
The growth of Riyadh, the national capital, is dramatic. Its population grew from about half a million in 1972 to over 6 million in 2019. Saudi Arabia experienced urbanization later than many other countries; in the early 1970s, its urban-rural ratio was still about 1:3. By 1990, that had reversed to about 3:1. The cities grew through in-migration from rural areas and from decreases in the death rate while the birth rate remained high. In the mid-1970s, Riyadh’s population was increasing by about 10 percent a year.
The dark red squiggly line that winds through the western part of Riyadh is called the Wadi Hanifa, or the Hanifa Valley. This natural water course drains an area of over 4,000 square kilometers. Riyadh has been working to maintain the Wadi Hanifa as an environmental, recreational, and tourism resource.
Located about 35 kilometers north of Riyadh, King Khalid International Airport opened in 1983, so it only appears in the images after that date. The two parallel runways are each 4,200 meters long. The airport occupies about 225 square kilometers.
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