UAE urged to build 'liveable' places

Urban planning conference to address the lack of green spaces and better planning to make the country more pedestrian-friendly.

The symposium will emphasise the need for more common spaces where people can gather.
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The UAE has constructed impressive buildings and roads but not built enough liveable spaces. That is the message a consultancy wants to deliver during an urban planning conference in the capital July 26. The Department of Municipal Affairs and other Government entities will attend the seminar on "place making" - creating attractive public places that people will enjoy.

Place Partners, an Australian consultancy firm, is hosting the event. "It's a certain attention to detail to usability, approachability, livability, and if you look at places in Abu Dhabi they are not all that pedestrian friendly," said Geoffrey Batzel, a planner with KEO International. "There are places where the curbs aren't the same level, cars strewn all over the place, no shade where you need it. Those places aren't approachable or friendly. What's approachable is maybe the Corniche or the parks, which are just a lot better put together, a lot more attention to detail."

Mr Batzel said large parts of Abu Dhabi needed a facelift. "You look at Mohammed bin Zayed City, Khalifa City B, Khalifa City A, there are moves afoot to basically add parks, add mosques, local retail, put in streetlights, a streetscape to what's just a patch of pavement now," he said. The municipality and government agencies have recognised that those details make far better homes, Mr Batzel said.

Place Partners co-founder Kylie Legge cited Al Shindagha in Dubai as an example of an old town that attracted residents because it had ample shade and allowed for cooling air movement. She said western-style plazas and piazzas were ill-suited to the climate in the Middle East. "In the Middle East, place making is more important because you've got an existing culture that doesn't rely on a built environment for its culture, but is more about community and relationships," she said.

Place Partners is working with Al Ain Municipality and last year shared research from more than 800 surveys with the Urban Planning Council. They showed that Emiratis preferred traditional government housing over European designs, Ms Legge said. Residents said the older housing allowed residents to easily walk to mosques, which was "an important part of socialisation and family life". Bringing life back into the cities is the objective of place making, said Talal Abdulla al Salmani, Al Ain Municipality's director of urban planning. By better understanding what makes a neighborhood appealing, he said, the city can "meet the needs and desires of residents".

Greg Bargull, who will speak at the seminar on Yas Island as a representative of the Tourism Development and Investment Company, said it was important to the master developer to create 27 square kilometres of space where people would want to live, work and play. "Everyone knows those museums - the Zayed National Museum, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi - everyone knows they're coming into place," said Mr Bargull, the development manager for Saadiyat Island. "But it's not just about museums."

The development also will feature a marina and other amenities. "In the end, we want to make sure we're creating a destination people will want to go to," Mr Bargull said. About 60 people are expected to participate in the seminar, which will be held at the Radisson Blu hotel.