Abu Dhabi to develop urban planning code

The capital city has launched a new project with the World Economic Forum to develop a code of best practice for urban planning.

Abu Dhabi - November 2, 2008 - Cousins Jagjitt (background) and Jaswant Singh (foreground) use the green space in Corniche Lake Park for stretching exercises in Abu Dhabi November 2, 2008. The Singh's come to the park every day after work. ( Jeff Topping / The National) *** Local Caption ***  JT002-1102-GREEN SPACE ABU DHABI IMG_1453.jpgJT002-1102-GREEN SPACE ABU DHABI IMG_1453.jpg
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DALIAN, China // Abu Dhabi yesterday launched a new project with the World Economic Forum (WEF) to develop a code of best practice for urban planning and development. The initiative signals a new level of co-operation between the UAE and the group best known for its annual gathering of global leaders in Davos, Switzerland,

Abu Dhabi's Urban Planning Commission and the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development said the new World Sustainable Capitals initiative aims to create a global alliance of urban planning experts, economists and industry executives to identify strategies for sustainable urban development. The initiative plans to present its initial findings and recommendations at the forum's next annual Middle East meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, in October of next year.

"In the next two decades, an increasing part of the population will be concentrated in mega-cities around the world," said Fahad al Raqbani, the deputy director general of the Abu Dhabi Council for Economic Development. "Sustainable development and urban planning are at the very heart of the upcoming challenges." André Schneider, the WEF managing director and chief operating officer, said: "The forum recognises the importance of city development in creating a sustainable, ecological future and its key link to economic recovery. Abu Dhabi is taking the lead in creating links between cities across the world to share best practices for urban planning and sustainable growth and the Forum shares this objective."

Thanks to accelerating urbanisation, many of the world's most pressing environmental and social problems are becoming concentrated in its largest cities. While only 10 per cent of the world's population lived in cities 100 years ago, roughly half now does, and by 2050, experts estimate that 70 per cent of all humans will be urban. Not surprisingly, perhaps, cities already account for 70 per cent of all CO2 emissions and 30 per cent of all greenhouse gases.

The WEF already has a "SlimCity" initiative that brings together cities and the private sector to exchange ideas on how to help cities use resources more efficiently and lower carbon emissions. The new initiative marries that work with the leadership in urban planning already demonstrated by Abu Dhabi in pursuit of the emirate's economic master plan, the Economic Vision 2030. Abu Dhabi officials said the initiative was also likely to culminate in the capital hosting a WEF meeting on sustainable urban development. That would put the city on a shortlist that includes Dubai, Cape Town, New Delhi and Seoul, which regularly host the group's meetings outside Switzerland. The forum's meeting here in Dalian this week, which is being attended by 1,300 people from 86 countries, is its third in China outside Beijing.

The UAE has one of the world's largest carbon footprints, but Abu Dhabi is working to reduce that with several projects currently in development. In addition to Masdar, the zero-carbon city planned near the international airport, the Urban Planning Commission has adopted sustainability, or "estidama" in Arabic, as a holistic philosophy to ensure that the capital's fast-paced development stays in harmony with both the environment and Emirati culture.

Abu Dhabi was recently identified by the Ethisphere Institute, a US think tank, along with Toronto, Singapore and Hyderabad as one of the world's 20 most sustainable cities. Mr al Raqbani said the SlimCity initiative would focus primarily on cities in the Middle East and North Africa, but would also branch out globally to cities such as Singapore and Brasilia. The objective is both to learn from such cities and to offer lessons to those still emerging from Abu Dhabi's own experience.

"This platform is to get people to work together and say 'This is what is working for me as a city,' and to give some basics of methodology," said Mr al Raqbani. warnold@thenational.ae