If there is one thing about Abu Dhabi that we all have an appreciation of it’s green space. Whether it’s the modern surroundings of Umm Al Emarat Park or the vintage 1980s greenery in Khalifa Park, the city certainly has a way with such spaces.
It’s not just for show. Abu Dhabi is renowned for its family-friendly nature parks, which have for years played an essential role in fostering community spirit.
If you’re not convinced, make your way to Khalidiya Park on a Friday evening in winter. It’s here that you’ll witness a sea of humanity, from three generations of one family sprawled out enjoying a Lebanese feast to young couples keeping up with their energetic toddlers. It’s all life-affirming stuff that makes me grateful to call the capital home.
That said, I recently relocated from Khalidiya to Reem Island, which since its inception nearly a decade ago has been a concrete jungle with cranes hovering above in all directions.
The only green around was a makeshift children’s play area outside Boutik Mall, which has a small strip of manicured grass running lengthwise for several metres at best.
This week, though, the island launched its first proper green space – Reem Central Park – and judging by my first visit, it continues the capital's tradition of creating great family leisure spots for all to enjoy – but be prepared, parking is limited.
The new green is located of off the central thoroughfare leading to Boutik Mall and is quite near to the Shams Meera building.
Visitors have the option of parking their car deep along the narrow road and walking five minutes to the venue, or forking out Dh25 to have their vehicle parked in a premium spot.
For me, the one thing that stands out about this new area is its shape – this is no standard park. It is a mixture of peaks and troughs, nooks and crannies and expansive space, extending beneath an overpass, which essentially means you have to keep your eyes peeled.
When I enter, the first thing I see is a bunch of food trucks nestled in the nooks on my left. Upon closer inspection I discover that behind those is a strip of sand leading to a selection of canoes that can be used on the manmade river, and beside that is a series of jumping castles for the kids to enjoy.
The developers have done a great job creating this space, but my recommendation to park officials would be to create a map so that people – especially first-time visitors – don't miss key parts of it, like the other side that is home to a medium-sized open-air cinema. If you keep strolling down the central path there is a large food-style village similar to the one at Umm Al Emarat Park, complete with the usual suspects such as karak, shawarmas and mini-burgers.
The area by the large cinema screen is full when I visit, with nearly 100 people on bean bags watching Avengers: Infinity War. Part of this space is walled off to create a sound barrier. Further along the main path is an impressive concert-style stage that can hold up to a dozen performers at any one time.
The sound technician tells me that there is a plan to put on shows at weekends. A DJ is at work further down the track on an elevated deck in front of an empty concrete dance floor. But there is no schedule yet and, believe me, Wednesdays on Reem Island are not party central.
The set can be best described as “eclectic” and it feels to me like the DJ has been given a brief to play uptempo songs that reflect the variety of different nationalities that call the island home. It was a weird musical mix, from the tunes of Bollywood pop star Arijit Singh to some Afrobeat styles and a few hits by French DJ David Guetta.
There is a skatepark, too, featuring multiple pits tailor-made to different skill levels. It’s a bit kamikaze with kids wandering through the lanes dedicated to skaters and rollerbladers, though. “We get used to it,” says Wissam, an Emirati skater who was chilling with his group after a sweaty session. “But this skatepark is top-notch. It is worth it. We used to go to one near Baynunah Tower and that’s, like, run down. This is fresh for us. I will come back here, even with the kids.”
At present the park still feels very new and it’s in need of some finessing, including better directions and overall curation, but the potential of Reem Central Park is huge and it will probably succeed in its mission to become an exciting new leisure destination space. Not just because that is what Abu Dhabi does best, but because we Reem Islanders expect nothing less.
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