So many living in the UAE hold fond memories of winter afternoons spent strolling down Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, or spring days with friends and family at Kite Beach in Dubai.
Each emirate has its own landmark public spaces that form part of the backdrop of civic life.
Sadly, in much of our highly urbanised world, public spaces are often taken for granted, or forgotten by city residents. But they are the city’s beating heart, and play a crucial role in building national cohesion and social harmony. People from across the spectrum of race and class can meet and mingle in these spaces, which serve as real-life proof that what unites humankind is greater than the obstacles that divide it.
The UAE continues to invest in its public spaces, which have become an essential part of life in the country over the years. A Dh2.5 billion ($680 million) plan to preserve and expand Dubai’s public beaches and parks was announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, last Saturday. Dubai will launch 29 projects to create a dozen new beaches and millions of square metres of green spaces. The plan also seeks to build more running paths and cycling lanes to encourage people to adopt alternative modes of transport and exercise in the outdoors.
In Abu Dhabi, a long-term plan to overhaul public spaces was announced last December. The capital is investing Dh8 billion ($2 billion) to transform public places and parks into community spaces for everyone to enjoy as part of Ghadan 21, a three-year programme that aims to invest in Abu Dhabi’s development and in diversifying the emirate’s economy.
It is commendable that these projects remain a priority despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and the worldwide economic recession that it has wrought. The outdoors can be enjoyed by everyone safely, provided that hygiene measures and physical distancing rules are respected.
Preserving these spaces is especially important at a time of concern about being outside and interacting with others during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The coronavirus has upended life as we knew it. It has wrecked livelihoods, affected the health of millions of people around the world and restricted movement everywhere. The outbreak has also changed social behaviour, limiting large gatherings, picnics, and week-end festivities to small, physically-distanced get-togethers. At a time of economic pinch and physical distancing, the world is reminded of the value of these public spaces. Many can no longer afford to dine out or spend money on leisure, but everyone can enjoy a swim at a public beach or a stroll down the corniche.
A number of European cities have faced security challenges in their public spaces. Just yesterday, Vienna witnessed a terrible terrorist attack near a synagogue, and France has also fallen victim to extremist assaults in the past month.
In addition to raising awareness about tolerance, it is crucial to preserve and invest in spaces where people from different backgrounds can come together and create shared memories in their cities and towns.