For far too long, Abu Dhabi has been known as the rather laid back and sleepy and serene capital of the UAE even as inevitable parallels were drawn with the ever-buzzing Dubai. Not any more. With population growth and urban development competing with each other, the city has been pumping in billions of dirhams in gigantic projects to meet the demands of changing times.
What makes this plan truly extraordinary and unusual for our part of the world is its thrust and emphasis on environment in accordance with the new global trend and benchmarks of urban development.
Like most cities in the Gulf, flush with cheap and easily available petrol, Abu Dhabi currently is a city of and for motorists or cars with little thought or concern for pedestrians. This is set to change. According to the 20-year plan, it is not the motorist but pedestrian who will have the first right of the road.
Car owners are pegged at the lowest in the new scheme of things. The emphasis is on public transport including Metro and trams. The Abu Dhabi Metro will be a reality by 2016. And a network of trams set along the existing roads will further ease the pressure on the capital’s streets.
With narrower roads and increased public parks and greenery, the idea is to encourage public transport or walking and discourage individual motorists. For all this to become a reality though, the capital authorities will have to restructure or carve up Abu Dhabi’s enormous superblocks, paving the way for more pedestrian traffic and walkways with more shops, schools and green spaces. Which would likely involve the redevelopment and restructuring of the city centre and other existing landmarks.
It may also mean enormous inconvenience for Abu Dhabi residents as the city undertakes this massive exercise to reinvent itself. But this initial inconvenience will be worth the effort given the ultimate goal of the city planners.
This new, green city may be a new concept in the Gulf. But this is the way to go for all big cities in the Middle East and around the world if we care for the environment. Vehicular pollution and emissions have been playing a major role in contributing to global warming. This is why urban planners everywhere are increasingly trying to promote mass public transport such as Metro and increase green urban spaces as much as possible.
Dubai has already taken huge strides on this front with Metro and its ubiquitous network of massive buses and double-deckers. Come April, the Dubai Metro will get seven more stations even as work goes at a frantic pace on the Green Line, which is expected to complete next year. There are invaluable lessons to be learnt from all this by the UAE’s Arab and Gulf neighbours.