Genesis of Abu Dhabi’s best laid plans


By Kareem Shaheen

ABU DHABI // The roots of Abu Dhabi’s success in winning the prestigious Palladium Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame for Executing Strategy award reach back to 2007, when the Abu Dhabi Executive Council published a document that would become a blueprint for the capital’s sweeping development plans.

Louvre and Guggenheim museum
Louvre and Guggenheim museum

The 2007-2008 policy agenda signified the “beginning of a new era for our Government and public sector, in terms of accountability and transparency”, said Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.

Outlining the Government’s aspirations for economic development, the document marked a turning point where growth was no longer Abu Dhabi’s sole priority. Progress would also require accountability and efficiency in government. The Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, published in September 2007, was another key document. It set out to allocate land use and transportation guidelines throughout metropolitan Abu Dhabi. It was this document that put the Cultural District on Saadiyat Island, along with its planned Louvre and Guggenheim museums, at the heart of a modern Abu Dhabi.

But it was also this document that insisted every government department set clear policy goals that must be communicated to stakeholders and employees. It also called for greater interaction with the public.

In a keynote speech in April 2008, Ahmad al Bowardi, the secretary general of the Executive Council, said all government departments would be required to develop strategic plans and policy agendas. His speech emphasised the need for a metric system and urban development, but, again, the primary focus was on improving governance.

Mr al Bowardi said the process would help remove “a major obstacle to the functioning of the executive system”.

“The Government of Abu Dhabi is willing and able to make Abu Dhabi the best and most beautiful of cities, attracting investments, becoming a global tourist destination and providing a high standard of living for nationals and expatriates alike,” he said.

“Let us employ these resources to build a modern, effective and uniquely efficient government,” said Mr al Bowardi.

He asked Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to “invite every department to announce its own strategic plans … that will serve as a channel to send clear and specific messages to all stakeholders and partners, particularly in the media and the public”.

Experts say that long-term planning is necessitated by the quick growth of Gulf countries.

“Organic growth takes centuries, millennia,” said Erik Ferguson, an urban planning expert at the University of Sharjah. “When will Abu Dhabi be as old as Istanbul is today?”

Martin Seaward-Case, the UAE chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, said that government planners were better able to balance a city’s long-term needs than individual enterprises which would be more focused on maximising short term gains.

“If you look at New Delhi for instance which grew organically, you’ll find great missed opportunities with all sorts of aspects from the width of the sidewalks or the lack of them, or infrastructure not being put in place, unplanned or grey areas that are semi-serviced,” he said.

Abu Dhabi has recently narrowed its focus to two types of programme – the comprehensive Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia 2030 plans, and the more immediate 2008-2012 strategic plans by local authorities and departments.

The Al Gharbia 2030 plan envisions a Western Region – home to the oil industry that generates 40 per cent of the emirate’s GDP – as a renewable energy hub with recreation and entertainment centres.

Soon after Mr al Bowardi’s 2008 speech, the Urban Planning Council (UPC) unveiled a vision for the Capital District, which would house all government buildings and embassies as well as many residential districts in 5,000 hectares south of the capital by 2030. The district will eventually have 300,000 residents and workers.

In January 2009, the Abu Dhabi Council of Economic Development, along with the General Secretariat of the Executive Council and the Department of Planning and Economy, published a blueprint for the economy called the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030.

In February, the UPC released a plan for the capital city’s streets which includes a metro system, to open in 2016, trams, and a revamp of streets that would give priority to pedestrians and provide them with shaded walkways.