Capital gains


Suchitra Bajpai Chaudharyis senior Features Writer, Friday

Heritage, tradition and modernity will coexist in harmony in Vision 2030, an iconic master plan for the city of Abu Dhabi. Unveiled by its Urban Planning Council, it promises a sustainable future and dramatic lifestyle change very soon, says Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary

    *  A comprehensive public transport system that includes trams     * Image Credit: Supplied
* A comprehensive public transport system that includes trams * Image Credit: Supplied

You wake up in the morning, look out of your window or walk out through your front doors to enjoy the feeling of how your city looks. Everything in the right proportions and in the right place, including you. Houses built to give design elements breathing space, long, strong swathes of land that support beautiful trees, pools of shade and modern embellishments towering around you, not to dwarf you but to make you feel secure and salute the achievement of man.

In combining sprawl, space, solidity and grandiosity to look like a piece of livable art, urban planning sets a very high bar for itself. From architecture to horticulture to infrastructure, all elements must mesh to create a beautiful matrix that people become a part of without having to jut out like a hard edge.

When we talk of cities that are livable, they are so because living in them makes life seem a beautiful experience, day after day.

Vision 2030, the new blueprint for the UAE’s capital city Abu Dhabi, as unveiled by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC), offers a glimpse of such a lifestyle in its 3-D beauty. As you look at the artists’ impressions, you feel the tug ofa street and imagine yourself walking down that shaded road, perhaps to your house down that street, cooled in the summer by the abundant burst of a dozen bougainvillea. The vision is compelling. The good news? Vision 2030 is a work in progress.

Vision 2030 is the kind of project that recreates a community celebration of the small pleasures of life. Just a few years from now you will be able to live in eco-friendly buildings, with designs that adhere to traditionally inspired architecture. You will be walking or cycling to work through shaded walkways. You also have the choice of taking a tram, train or bus to your office.

Your garbage will be recycled; the renewable energy of the wind and sun will be used to power your home and office.

The city will hark back to the days the intellectual stimulation was a huge motif on its fabric, as were waterfront activities, theatres, art galleries and just a few yards down the line, sports arenas thundering to the cheers of sports lovers.

It’s a vision that is rising in the clear atmosphere of Abu Dhabi as the symbol of what the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan always wanted – a unique model for his emirate that combined the best principles of heritage and culture with the chic appeal of the ultra modern. Shaikh Zayed once said: “We need to look back at our steps, adjust our actions accordingly, plan for our future with hearts full of faith and clear will, coupled with enlightened thinking, in order to perfect our march, and achieve for our people all that wehad hoped for.”

John Madden, senior planning manager, Development Review and Urban Design Planning at Abu Dhabi UPC says: “Our approach to planning for the future of the capital is to create more livable places, have greater connectivity, reduce our eco footprint and be part of a seamless community. We want our residents to have greater walkability through the capital. We are focusing on alternative modes of transport, attempting to create a sense of place through culture, heritage, park systems and open areas. All this will offer greater liveability for the residents. Each neighbourhood will be distinct and unique in its topography, history and it will make people identify with their neighbourhoods.”

The 2030 plan is aimed at accommodating three times the size of the current population in the capital and will provide residents a lifestyle change in seven aspects of their life. These are:

Better community living UPC is working towards creating ‘Complete Communities’ which will see complete integration of places of work, housing, retail, cultural, recreational, educational and community facilities; and will add vibrancy and character to all neighbourhoods.
The residential complexes will include mosques, hospitals, schools, recreational facilities and parks as well as shops and cafes, providing a social space for all the members of that community to interact. The requirements of the special needs community will always be kept in mind while creating such environments.

A tryst with culture and heritage A planned heritage trail is going to be part of the landscape to re-establish the traditional Bedouin route from the shore to the desert through linking of the historic fort of Qasr Al Hosn and the Qasr Al Manhal Palace and onwards to the Shaikh Zayed Grand Mosque, culminating in the entrance to the Grand Boulevard of the Capital District. The idea is to have an integrated concept of the city where nothing will be an afterthought and each place will be linked to the bigger picture of the city.

Harmony with Nature One of the main defences against pollution and against prevention of the erosion of the coastal line are the mangroves that help many of the endangered species of fish to breed and survive and are also home to a variety of birds. The mangroves are known as carbon sinks and give out oxygen that helps in reducing pollution. The Green and Hawks bill turtles often lay their eggs on the shores of these mangroves whilst flamingos, dolphins, porpoise and dugongs can be found in these waters.

The UPC aims to assist the government in conservation projects that will help manage the urban bio-diversity on a sustainable basis. The UPC recently joined the Local Action of Bio-diversity (LAB), an international global initiative to promote urban bio-diversity. In addition, the UPC has also in close collaboration with the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, launched the Coastal Development Guidelines. It will focus on developing many of the coastal basins such as the one that begins from the Al Dhabiya island to the outskirts of Dubai which will be developed as one of the first initiatives in the plan.

Smart transport systems The Abu Dhabi Department of Transport (DoT) has created a Surface Transportation Master Plan to create public modes of transport that will reduce the emirate’s reliance on personal vehicles and implement a network of public transit systems such as high speed rails, trams and buses. This will not only facilitate movement within the city but contribute greatly to better connectivity.

Injecting fresh blood The aim of the plan is to revitalise a lot of far-flung forgotten suburbs of the capital that have lost touch with the mainstream. Reconstruction does not mean erasing all previous communities to usher in the new. The existing communities of Old and new Shahama, Bahia and Coastal Bahia will be part of this revitalisation plan. One method to achieve this is through the construction of a tram system and a network of underground metro systems. The other major project is to reconnect the oasis region with the city and use the oasis as a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly location for recreational and retail use.

Revival of the waterfront The entire waterfront area of the capital is
a unique location where the desert converges with the sea and this stretch is largely continuous and protected. UPC plans to expand the corniche (the first phase was completed in November last year with the opening of the Yas Marina circuit). The UPC’s Corniche Area Vision
and subsequent Corniche
Area Revitalisation strategy was developed to improve access to the waterfront, improve parking facilities and public amenities. The public beach has been extended from
1.2km to over 3km.

World class sports facilities: Abu Dhabi is being recognised internationally for the number of world class sporting arenas. Its inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix took place on Yas Island in November 2009 and throughout December. Fifa held the Fifa Club World Cup Championships at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium. Zayed Sports City stadium held the World Tennis Championships in January this year.

Sporting facilities are essential to building complete communities. The UPC is building sports and recreational facilities such as basketball and racquetball courts within easy reach of its residents.

The Capital District will also be home to a new stadium located in the Khalifa Sports Hub.

The year 2030 may seem far away, but when the first steps are taken along its wide streets and the shade of the trees rests on your shoulders and trams and trains gracefully move you from place to place, the frenzy of life will be replaced by the ease of achievement. The concept of shaping the future that at one time seems an imponderable will become a reality to live in. It sounds like a simple conclusion, but Vision 2030 is set to prove that shaping the future, when done with pure purpose, can be made into a reality simple to understand and extremely fulfilling to live out.

What’s in store?

The Urban Planning Council (UCP) has a three-pronged plan that covers about 600 square kilometres of land in the Abu Dhabi region.

The plan will endeavour to encourage the social and economic development of the region in keeping with international standards.

It will cover three distinct regions. The urban structure framework will cover the Abu Dhabi city area or the Capital District and is called the ‘Capital 2030′ programme.The regional structure framework plans will include the development of Al Ain region and the plan is called ‘Al Ain 2030′, while Al Garbhia or the Western region will be covered by the ‘Al Garbhia 2030′ plan.

Together, the three plans are integrated under the Abu Dhabi 2030 Vision. The UPC will aim to develop a professionally designed and well-managed urban environment in the emirate, complete with world-class transportations systems.

It will liaise with other government departments, including the Environment Agency, the Department of Transport, Abu Dhabi Education Council and the Abu Dhabi Municipality to create a world-class infrastructure.

The focus of the development will be the Capital district near the Abu Dhabi Airport, to where the seat of government will be moved.

About 4,500 hectares of land will fall under the Capital District which has a projected population aim of about 370,000 people by 2030.

The Capital District Masterplan aims to preserve the traditions, heritage and way of life of Emirati people, while being flexible enough to accommodate the needs of the emirate’s diverse population.

The residents of the Capital District and its neighbouring communities will have an enhanced lifestyle which is a key focus for UPC.

The framework for this development followsa set of fundamental principles:

  • The capital will show the face of a contemporary Arab city, with people living in healthy supportive proximity to each other.
  • It will continue its practice of measured growth while reflecting a sustainable economy, rather than an uncontrolled growth.
  • The capital will continue to be scaled to, and shaped by, the natural environment of sensitive coastal and desert ecology.
  • It will manifest its role and stature as a capital city.
  • Abu Dhabi’s urban fabric and community infrastructure will value the social arrangements, culture and mores of the Arab community.

The concept of Estidama

All development, however novel, has to be sustainable to be lasting. That brings us to the philosophy of Estidama or sustainability.

It includes the sustainable principles and practice put into place for governance and community development.

The Urban Planning Council (UPC) has formulated this novel concept that seeks to balance the four pillars of the environment, society, economy and culture in all that is created or going to be created for better community living. The Estidama principles when implemented will endeavour to promote living in harmony with the culture and environment of Abu Dhabi whilst conserving the Emirati way of life so that future generations can benefit, points out John Madden, senior UPC planning official. In order to implement Estidama in all construction in the capital, the Estidama Pearl Rating System (EPRS) has already been put in place. Buildings will be rated on the basis of how green they are – based, for example, on whether they reduce pollution, use less energy, integrate renewable energy and preserve natural resources. The system is a voluntary programme which spells out levels of sustainability and will be made available to developers seeking to achieve recognition for pursuing a higher level of green building and development. According to Madden, the Estidama rating system has been drawn by taking into account the culture of the country and involves a ‘living rating’ that assesses the actual performance ofa building.

The rating system’s efficacy is being proved through pilot projects. For instance, recently 12 Estidama Excellence awards were given to developers at the World Future Energy Summit. Many EPRS qualified practitioners are being trained and will take exams to ensure a proper rating system is implemented.

Sustainability is not a theoretical issue and it requires the residents of the community to participate in making the goals of sustainablity viable. A recent case in point was a competition, called ‘Fareej’ organised by the UPC to invite and generate ideas for community development. About 118 students representing different universities and colleges across the UAE participated in this competition to create a sustainable Emirati dwelling which incorporated the local traditional neighbourhood concept. The winning team from Ajman University succeeded in combining traditional and modern sustainability features into a functional design. The ideas of this model will be incorporated into the houses that will be constructed later.

Madden believes that when implemented, Estidama will touch multiple facets in people’s daily lives – the curriculum in schools, the way the sovereign wealth fund makes investment decisions, the way infrastructure is planned, calculated and constructed, the health of the land and marine ecosystems and sustainable sourcing of food and water.