I have a deep love for being outdoors, but I have a deeper intolerance of the heat. This is why I find the weather in this country absolutely amazing for about a third of the year, or even half of it, depending on your definition of “heat”.
Unfortunately, working in an office takes up most of the day, therefore the need to take advantage of being outdoors is heightened at weekends and evenings. Maybe it is the fresh air or perhaps it is simply the natural light, but you cannot deny the great feeling of being outdoors.
Friends who live in Dubai often boast about the weekend markets and the park culture that exists there and I wish there was more of that in Abu Dhabi. We have so many parks around the city but most of them are, in my experience, rarely used.
In Manhattan, I would go for runs along the river and it was one way I started to become more familiar with the people who lived in my neighbourhood. I feel that public spaces are an essential way to really feel part of the city and to care and connect with the people who live there with you.
We tend to get so caught up in work, life and screens that I think it is rare for people to be outdoors really engaging with their surroundings. We need to not only put effort into maintaining the spaces that we do have, but find ways to support people to use them more.
People could be encouraged to use existing facilities by better setting them up for healthy living. We could do this by having running tracks that circle parks and pitches and by making sure that there are picnic areas and a plethora of masjids available, all of which are a great way to let people know that a day spent outside can be hassle-free.
This is why I was so excited by the food truck festival when it came to Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. It made me happy just to see families and friends camping around on the grass or on the beach enjoying the food and being troopers despite the sandstorm. There is a sense of solidarity formed by attending these events and getting to experience similar things around the city.
I also had a great time at the jazz festival in Dubai last weekend, simply because I thought the venue was great and the set up made it feel like one big community wide event.
Food and entertainment is the perfect way to encourage park culture. These do not need to be big commercial events. We need to encourage the community to use these spaces. It could be in letting people host outdoor yoga sessions, poetry readings or impromptu musical performances.
Likewise, farmers’ markets could also help to get people to interact with small to medium-sized businesses around the city.
In big cities it is often those very personal connections with whoever sells you your produce that can really make a difference about how integrated and comfortable you feel. I had my coffee and bagel guy in New York and I believe the familiarity created by these small routines can really help people connect.
Big cities need a Central Park or a Bois de Boulogne. While it is true that we have some weather restrictions, it is also true that the UAE is more than able to find innovative solutions to these problems.
For example, Abu Dhabi Municipality could hold contests for people to design sections of the park that can be sustainably used throughout the year.
I was really happy to read that the municipality had announced plans to introduce more green spaces across Abu Dhabi. One hundred and thirty new public parks are supposed to come up by 2017.
One that I am very excited to visit is the Mushrif Central Park, which will reopen on March 20 with new cafés, an indoor play area, a sports hall, an “animal barn” and an amphitheatre.
I look forward to going out and taking full advantage of all the new spaces and really hope that others do too.
Fatima Al Shamsi is a globetrotting Emirati foodie, film buff and football fanatic