Urban sprawl in arid environments: contrasting master plans and land use changes in Al Ain City, United Arab Emirates.

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


Land‐use policy and planning concerns collective decision‐making by which a society decides where, within its territory, different socioeconomic activities should take place, and establishes provisions that control the nature of such actions due to environmental, cultural or historical reasons. These controls determine features such as plot areas, their land consumption, their intensity, their density or technical standards of infrastructures. Therefore, land‐uses determine the diverse socioeconomic activities that occur in a specific area, the patterns of human behavior they produce, and their impact on the environment. Since the 1990s, with the initiation of the Land‐Use and Land‐Cover (LULC) change project of the International Geosphere‐Biosphere Program (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Program (IHDP), considerable advances in the field of modeling of LULC change have occurred. Monitoring LULC changes is critical to develop effective strategies for spatial management and environmental protection because human‐induced changes have affected the performance of ecosystem services and contributed to alter the biochemical cycles that control the functioning of the Earth system. In land‐use policy and planning diverse types of human actors, their relationships and the social and institutional structure influence LULC processes. Due to their geostrategic situation, located between the developed Western nations and the rising Asian economies, and world centres of oil production, cities in the Arabian Peninsula have rapidly gained significance in the global economy. In consequence, urban spaces in these cities have extended their presence far beyond the historic centres. Given the rapid development of Arab cities in recent decades, the term ‘instant city’ has been proposed to describe the way they seem to have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. In this PhD thesis the study area comprised Al Ain city, located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). It is an interesting medium‐sized town to analyse due to its very rapid urban development, and a strategic location on the border between UAE and Oman. It is characterized by a vast, arid desert, dominated by sand and gravel, with intermittent dry riverbeds, a rugged mountainous region (Jabel Hafeet) and an area of fertile soils and oases, with large reserves of groundwater. The thesis is structured in eight chapters with the main objective of assessing LULC trajectories of Al Ain, from 1984 to 2014, and of comparing them with the management of two master plans. To map and quantify LULC changes, a particular combination of remote sensing and GIS techniques was applied. After that, to verify the initial hypothesis about the specificity of Al Ain urban sprawl and to evaluate the consequences of LULC changes from a landscape point of view, landscape metrics of urban patterns (aggregated, linear, leapfrogging or nodal pattern) were calculated. The next step consisted in applying a statistical analysis using census data, at district scale, to improve the understanding of LULC processes, mainly those related to population, sex and origin. Later, the main driving forces of LULC changes were established based on expert knowledge and the socioenvironmental consequences of such dynamics. Finally, future growth was evaluated from the Plan Al Ain 2030. This PhD thesis represents one step beyond the knowledge about urban trajectories and forms, being an empirical contribution with an innovative used combined of tools: a particular combination of RS and GIS techniques; a comparison of real urban growth with the guidelines provided by master plans; a detailed assessment of landscape patterns; a statistical analysis using census data at district scale; and, finally, an expert knowledge approach applied to determine main driving forces and socioenvironmental consequences.
Date of Award5 Sept 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid Sauri Pujol (Tutor) & Pere Serra Ruiz (Director)


  • Ciutat d'Al Ain; Ciudad de Al AIn; Al Ain City; Plans mestres; Planes maestros; Master plans; Canvis usos del sòl; Cambios usos del suelo; Land-use changes

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