Neighbourhood Watch: The village community hidden among the skyscrapers of new Dubai

With rents as low as Dh74,000 for a small villa, Desert Springs Village is a rare find when it comes to affordability and quality of life

Powered by automated translation

Desert Springs Village is an apt name for this charming neighbourhood of tidy bungalows and shaded paths.

With the feel of a close-knit desert community, it would be easy to mistake this for belonging to another city - or era for that matter.

In fact, only the towering skyscrapers that act as a perimeter give the game away.

Built in 1973, this gated villa on the edge of Barsha Heights, in the shadow of the Grand Millennium Hotel, feels so anachronistic that there have been signs that the game was up for Desert Springs Village. The community faced the threat of demolition from 2007, only for the plans to be shelved. And The National told in 2012 how the community felt it was only a matter of time before the land was redeveloped.

Now six years later, not only is the village still standing strong, the community is thriving here. The complex is so ingrained with local history that many residents can still recall skipping across Sheikh Zayed Road to get to the beach.

Back then there were just two lanes of traffic to contend with. It is hard to imagine that renting a two-bedroom villa here in the heart of the city costs as little as Dh74,000.

What has not changed is the family environment of the complex. That is evident as we are greeted by children on bikes as we enter the complex, a sight that would seem alien just a few metres on the other side of the wall.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 2 – 2018 :- Mariam Kasirivu one of the resident with her dogs during the evening walk at the Desert Springs Village in Tecom area in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Patrick Ryan
Mariam Kasirivu walks her three dogs through Desert Springs Village. Pawan Singh / The National

“There is a real sense of community here,” says Lucy Shaw, who has lived in the area for six years.

“The children always play together, they go trick and treating together. We are always in and out of neighbours’ homes and walking each other’s dogs. Where else could you say that about in Dubai?”

Ms Shaw, like her neighbours, is proud of the community she has helped to build.

“People who are originally from this part of the world often say it reminds them of where their grandparents grew up,” she said.

“People also say this is like the old Dubai and that we are one of the few places keeping that atmosphere alive. We have built something special here.”

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 2 – 2018 :- View of the front garden of one of the villa in Desert Springs Village in Tecom area in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Patrick Ryan
The bungalow-style villas have large gardens that are seldom found in central Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National

Ali Itani, from Lebanon, is a neighbour of Ms Shaw’s and proof that Desert Springs Village is all about family as he and his wife are expecting their first child.

“We actually found this place by mistake. My wife and I were looking at apartments in high-rises around here and our Waze app took us here by mistake,” he said.

“Our first reaction was ‘what is this place?’ but we couldn’t help but fall in love with it. There were birds chirping, people walking their dogs and all kinds of different of animals like rabbits and guinea fowl running about.”

Mr Itani, 40, describes the village as the “antithesis of what you usually find in Dubai”.

Life is not without challenges though for the people of Desert Springs Village though.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 2 – 2018 :- Entrance gate of one of the villa at the Desert Springs Village in Tecom area in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Patrick Ryan
Longstanding tenants have added a personal touch to their homes. Pawan Singh / The National

“When I went to the mall to get my internet connection I was told that it wouldn’t be a problem but then when I told them where I lived they brought up a map of the entire Dubai area,” said Mr Itani.

“Every area was marked as green on the map except for Desert Springs Village, which was marked as red.”

To get around the problem, Mr Itani has installed an LTE box outside his property to pick up a connection. It is a tactic that many of his neighbours have employed as well.

“The entire UAE is covered except for Desert Springs Village,” he said.

Mr Itani chuckles when he says that one neighbour works for Etisalat laying down fibre optic cables: “He can’t get a signal either.”

Another gripe of Mr Itani’s is how many people cut across the complex because they are looking for a shortcut.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 2 – 2018 :- Ali Itani at his villa in the Desert Springs Village in Tecom area in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Patrick Ryan
Ali Itani at his home in Desert Springs Village. Pawan Singh / The National

“Other than that, this community is wonderful and unique,” he said.

“There are other communities in Dubai but they don’t interact like we do.”

Anna Nassirpour moved from Vancouver and set up home, with her husband, in Desert Springs Village three years ago.

“My neighbours are like family to me. Other places don’t have what we have here,” she said.

“When you go to other places in Dubai people don’t even say hi to each other. Here you have children playing, people out walking and talking to each other. You can make a good life here.”

Ms Nassirpour said she was able, along with her husband, to build their home piece by piece and instil their own personalities into the property. Something that would not have been possible in many other parts of the emirate.

Living in Desert Springs Village has enabled Ms Nassirpour to cultivate her interest in growing her own food.

“I grow tomatoes, spinach and pumpkins in my garden,” she said.

“Next I am planning to grow my own olives. I have been told if you want to bless a house then you should put olives in front of it.”

Vivek Hegde, from India, has put roots down in Desert Springs Village.

“It is very special. We are staying in a village in the middle of the concrete jungle,” he said.

“My work involves corporate level business talks but when I get home I am a farmer. Here you can celebrate life every day.”

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , August 2 – 2018 :- View of the Paragon restaurant and Desert Spring grocery at the Desert Springs Village in Tecom area in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Patrick Ryan
Countless taxis are typically seen outside the community's only restaurant and shop. Pawan Singh / The National

Desert Springs Village might seem like one of the hidden gems of Dubai, but if you ask any taxi driver to take you there they will know where it is straight away.

That's because Paragon Restaurant, a favourite haunt among Dubai taxi drivers, stands close to the community's entrance. You would be forgiven for thinking it was a taxi rank, such is the number of RTA vehicles that are parked outside it in the evening.

Another claim to fame is a selection of graffiti, from internationally renowned artist Shuck2. That dates back to 1992.

It is clear there is much more to this hidden enclave of Dubai than meets the eye.


Read more from our neighbourhood series:

A rare glimpse of Bedouin life in the humble border town of Qoa

The changing face of Mussaffah

Hatta, where present and past collide

How old Dubai moved with the times and kept its heart