Is Abu Dhabi shunning 'Las Vegas landscape' for community living?

New building projects have greater emphasis on shared spaces and communities

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Abu Dhabi is moving away from the “Las Vegas-style landscape” as officials now favour buildings that promote a sense of community, architects say.

At the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, developers and designers said a shift towards green spaces and shared community centres, rather than spectacular skyscrapers, would make the emirate more liveable for residents.

The move could help to foster a greater sense of community among its diverse occupants, the experts claimed.

High-rise living has been popularised in some Gulf destinations but the UAE capital looks set to pursue a different path.

Here in Abu Dhabi there has been a transition... that we shouldn't do Las Vegas landscapes

“Especially here in Abu Dhabi there has been a transition, and it’s much stronger now, that we shouldn’t do Las Vegas landscapes,” said Rasmus Astrup, of Copenhagen architecture and landscape company SLA.

“We shouldn’t do only lawns and only palm trees, we should do something else and celebrate the raft of local nature that is here.

"We see when we collaborate with the municipality here that there’s an understanding of that, that we need to bring that local nature.

“There is also a political need to focus on community engagement. That’s a key to success because we need citizens to take ownership of where they live.”

The new Makers District on Reem Island, which is a mixed-use 18 hectare project with an emphasis on pedestrian traffic, was given as an example of the new approach.

One of the main priorities of architects had been placed on what people would see at “eye level", said Katayoun Lazar, an associate at project developer Imkan Properties.

Rasmus Astrum, left, SLA, at “Working Together: making our cities Waste Wise to achieve SDGs and Implement NUA” session at the tenth of World Urban Forum held in ADNEC.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter: DAN
Rasmus Astrum and Barbara Romer at the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National

It will include a boutique hotel, 3,700 homes, shops and leisure facilities.

“You want to constantly think about what is visible and accessible at eye level,” Ms Lazar said.

“This is the main defining factor for the master plan. After all, we all perceive our environment at eye level, so the ground plane plays a major role in how we imagined this development.

“Our streets nowadays aren’t places that people meet, greet, trade, gather and play any more. Our aim was to bring those qualities back into our projects.”

The Jubail Island development being built is another addition to Abu Dhabi.

It embraces hiking routes, nature and low-rise villas, and seeks to promote a sense of community.

“Just building bricks and mortar doesn’t do the job any more,” Ms Lazar said. “As developers, we understand it.

"I hope other developers get on the same wagon and build better cities, especially in this region."
In a question and answer session, one audience member, who said she worked on cultural strategies, said adopting a sense of community was a challenge as most residents tended to retire elsewhere.

Efforts have been made to address the issue through the launch of a Golden Card permanent residency scheme, offering thousands of long-term residents who have contributed to the country's growth the chance to stay after retirement.

The issue was “challenging”, Ms Lazar said, but she believed building social, art and cultural infrastructure would still help create a “sense of ownership”.

Celebrating the diversity of Abu Dhabi was also important, said Barbara Romer, a consultant who specialises in developing cultural visions for cities.