SHAMEL AZMEH The link between urban studies and economic issues is virtually non-existent in Syria. People who are interested in economic matters rarely take the issue of urbanisation into consideration while architects and city planners consider economic matters to be totally outside the scope of their work. Elsewhere, however, this link is well-established. It is widely accepted that since the city is the basic unit in todays economic system, it is impossible to understand urban development without linking it to the economic fundamentals and role of each city within the local, regional, and global economy. Over the last decades a number of political, economic and technological processes have led to a major reorganisation in the global economy. These changes were reflected in the urban organisation of the world and in the emergence of a global urban system linking cities and urban centres through the exchange of products, capital, technology, people, and ideas. Syrian cities have been relatively isolated from these changes. The countrys internally-oriented economic system, as well as its central role in the ME conflict, have limited its integration in the global economy and restricted the impact of global dynamics on the main urban centres of the country, namely Damascus and Aleppo. This situation has, however, changed over the last years. The Syrian government has taken a number of measures to open up its economy and to attract foreign investments, and hence to integrate the country in the world economy. The impact of this strategy on the organisation of the Syrian city can already be seen. For centuries Damascus was a centre of trade and exchange within the region and between the region and other parts of the world. In the last decades, this role declined due to a number of factors. First, Syria adopted a strategy of import-substitution and of de-linking itself from the capitalist world. This had the result of severing the relations between Syria and large parts of the ME and other global economic blocks. Second, the increasing dependency of the ME on oil has led to a rise in new urban centres in the region. Cities within oil-exporting countries have risen to dominate the urban hierarchy in the region and to dominate the majority of regional control and command functions. Cities that have historically played more important roles (Damascus, Aleppo, Beirut, Cairo) have witnessed a sharp decline in their regional influence. Third, is the rise in social inequality and this is hardly new to Damascus; even during the days of socialism and central planning. What we are witnessing now, however, is a different degree of social inequality. The opportunities that were opened up by the economic liberalisation have allowed some people to accumulate wealth to a level previously unknown. Take a walk in the better-off parts of the city and you will be astonished by the number of SUVs you will see on the streets. This growing inequality has an important effect for those left behind. What used to be alien pictures seen only on television has now reached the streets of the city leading to important implications on social relations within the city. In many other parts of the world that have passed through this same process, the outcome was an increase in crime. So far Damascus remains safe largely due to the role social and religious values continue to play. Relying solely on these values is a risky bet. Pushing inequality too high will force people to use this mechanism and this will have tremendous effects on the urban structure of Damascus. So while urban policies are important, the main tool to address the issues of poverty and inequality is economic policy. What we need are policies that make economic growth as inclusive as possible and that enable most of the population to share in the benefits of growth. These policies must be designed with the understanding that GDP growth is not the only indicator of the economic and social health of a country. Damascus needs an urban-economic approach to policy, for, in its absence, we might be jeopardising its future. The Syria Report