Corniche East: duality

Fringed by lush parks and tall glass-fronted towers that conceal the bustle of the city, this neighbourhood is a microcosm of Abu Dhabi.

Corniche East is a neighbourhood of contrast: a line of modern towers soars over the wide and tranquil park, while behind them lie several blocks of the cramped streets and near-chaotic bustle that are typical of downtown Abu Dhabi.

To look at the buildings lining the Corniche is to pay witness to the capital's evolution. Here you will find some of the oil and gas institutions that brought work and prosperity to the city. Nearby are many of the city's law firms and banks that came to assist them. Catering to the needs of all the office workers -as well as the residents of many of the newer towers - laundries, legal translation and typing offices, cafes and hotel apartments pepper the neighbourhood.

The housing in Corniche East is all in apartments. Old dilapidated six-storey buildings rub shoulders with soaring new blocks of glass and concrete. Many of the apartments in the newer towers have coveted views of the sea - some compensation for the difficulty most people find with parking. Shazia Babar, originally from Pakistan, has lived in this area for five years. "The children are very happy, we have two parks nearby: the Corniche and Capital Gardens. But there is no school near here; their school is in Mushrif so they have to get up very early in the morning. And taxis are a problem. Sometimes we have to wait more than 30 minutes for one."

In the nearby Zyara Café, Malika Barnous describes the area as "very respectable, and quiet. Everything is close by. The only inconvenience is parking". Barnous has lived in this neighbourhood for 20 years and explains that, fortunately, with the abundant amenities on hand you don't really need a car. "You can walk everywhere: to have coffee, lunch, dinner; go to the store, the park, or the beach. Here we have all the facilities you could want."

The area was not just a hub for oil and gas commerce; local residents used to throng to the old gold souq and what was called the New Souq (the fabric souq), both of which were demolished in 2004 to make way for the new Central Market development being built by Aldar. One of the few remaining fabric shops in the area, and one of the best known in the city, is Cairo Textiles on Khalifa Street. Hassan Aziz Ghaidi Khonji has owned and run Cairo Textiles since 1969. He remembers life in the New Souq, where he had a shop for 35 years: "In 1971, 1972, there were no women in the market, but sometimes you would see an old lady with a burqa." He adds, "I was very sad when the market was demolished. I think we have lost something there." He hopes, however, to take a shop in Aldar's new souq when it opens in Central Market next year.

The development will provide 5,000 much-needed parking spaces for this area. When finished it will comprise the souq, a shopping mall (expected to open at the end of next year), the Domain, which will, at 60 floors, be the tallest residential tower in Abu Dhabi, a 50-storey commercial tower, and a four-star and five-star hotel. Other developments that have been completed in the past couple of years are the Lake Park and the Formal Park, built on the land reclaimed for the second major extension of the Corniche and providing a wonderful space for families. There are benches, trees, play equipment for children and a lake with a huge fountain.

At Layali Zaman, a restaurant in the middle of Lake Park, diners tuck into Lebanese food or sit on the veranda and smoke shisha. Baheej Saabi is preparing to enjoy his favourite shisha flavour, double apple. "I come here twice most days; it's my second home. There's a lot of space and a great view, which is very rare in Abu Dhabi, especially for a shisha place. " Aishwarya Ram Karthik sits in the shade of a tree in Lake Park while her 12-month-old son, Aaryan, sleeps in his pram. "If you come down here early in the morning it's really peaceful. You will find different varieties of birds," she says. "You wouldn't believe you were in the city."

Abeer Mohammed, Egypt Around here is good for the children. You can go to the park, to the Corniche beach, all by walking. Diana Fouad, Palestine It's near the Corniche and still in the centre of the city. You find everything you need very easily: a Co-op nearby and gardens we can enjoy. It's a very calm area. The city has too much traffic, this is a good area to relax. Malika Barnous, Morocco If you don't want to drive in Abu Dhabi, here is ideal. We have everything you need here that you can walk to, and it's very safe. The beach was closer before. There is more green, more trees, more parks. It is improving all the time. Aishwarya Ram Karthik, India If you come down here early in the morning, it's really peaceful. You will find different varieties of birds. You wouldn't believe you are inside the city.