Urban Compass Predicts UAE’s Urban Trends for 2014

Re-launching Urban Fabric with a new annual feature called “Urban Compass.” Like a compass, these five  trends will guide the UAE’s urban development in 2014:

1. World Expo 2020 — Rising rents, metro expansion, “tourism dirham” hotel tax, Dubai World Central’s continued development, and maritime developments are all being driven by World Expo 2020.

A masterplan for the 438-hectare site is coming in Q3 2015. USD 24 billion in spending. 25 million visitors. 300,000 jobs. And it’s only six years away.

2. Rise of Smart CitiesDubai Smart City, announced by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai), will drive the city’s advancement into a global “Smart City” leader. Self-driving cars, advanced utilities monitoring, and integrated healthcare are all in the fast lane.

But it’s not all Jetsons-type fantasies. GCC cities are also ramping up Smart City initiatives to become more globally competitive. Don’t count out Abu Dhabi, Doha, or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s six Economic Cities!

3. More Mass Transit — Extending Dubai Metro’s Red and Green lines and the tram is a modest plan for World Expo 2020, considering that metro daily ridership has tripled since 2010, now standing room only at 366,000. Abu Dhabi’s 131 km metro and tram lines and Etihad Rail’s commuter rail projects are fast-approaching.

Now is the time for Dubai to think big and develop a mass transit plan on par with New York’s never-finished “Second System“. If Sheikh Zayed Road is double-decked, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have trains or BRT on the lower deck?

Transit oriented development at Union Square.

Artistic impression of the new multi-facility Transit Oriented Development to be built at Union Square. / Courtesy RTA via Gulf News.

4. Transit-Oriented Development — Considering Abu Dhabi only has bus lines, the capital gets transit-oriented development: dense, walkable, mixed-use development on corners and mass transit lines. Dubai’s moving ahead with a massive development at Union Station. Ibn Batuta seems ripe for development.

5. Mobile Technology — Dubai’s RTA has a several mobile apps, the ability to pay metro fare via NFC-enabled smartphones, and recently launched Nol card bus fare payment to Abu Dhabi. In Abu Dhabi, NYU AD students have created a version of the Dérive app to become a flâneur in the capital. Expect more tech and transit integration. GPS-tracked buses should be next.

City to Watch: Sharjah. The Islamic Capital of Culture for 2014 has kicked off with the Sharjah Light Festival, and has a wide range of activities for the year.

Darkhorse City to Watch: Fujairah. This East Coast town is flush with oil money, and developing fast. In 10 years, it could be the next Abu Dhabi.

Dubai’s Pearl Jumeirah Nears Completion

Pearl Jumeirah, Dubai, in September 2011. / Image courtesy Meraas.

If you had USD $100 billion to design luxury living, what would you create?

Meraas, a Dubai-based government-owned developer, was tasked with that assignment, and unveiled dizzying plans for Jumeirah Gardens — villas, towers and hotels on reclaimed islands off of Jumeirah Beach — at the 2008 Cityscape Dubai, according to The National.

Four years later, the project has been downscaled but the centerpiece of the Pearl Jumeirah remains. The reclaimed island is 8.3 million square feet, with 300 residential plots, plus “a unique 2 km promenade, central common plaza, two open beaches and a waterfront beach hotel,” according to a company brochure.

Master plan for the Pearl Jumeirah, Dubai. / Image courtesy Meraas.

From the air it looks like a luxury Levittown, with suburban-style cul-de-sacs, but the artist renditions of life on the ground looks like a fairy tale: a family crossing a stone bridge to a gazebo filled with flowers, huge windows facing the downtown with the Burj Khalifa in the background, and palm trees lining the beachfront promenade along low-slung villas. In the heart is a community park. Everything looks fairly walkable.

Artist’s rendition of the beachfront promenade on the Pearl Jumeirah, Dubai. / Image courtesy Meraas.


So who has the money to buy these villas? Apparently a lot of people — in 2010, about half the buildings were sold, mostly to Emirati buyers, but also to wealthier nationalities from the Middle East and Asia, per The National.

Meraas is tight-lipped on when residents will move in, but in 2010 The National said it could be later this year.

Architects Debate Dubai’s Urban Planning Future in Connecting Neighborhoods

A postcard of Dubai, highlighting its iconic skyline. / Image via Postcards blog (karinka300.blogspot.com).

DUBAI — Nearly five years after the global financial collapse in 2008, Dubai stands at a crossroads. Though its economy and population have been growing over the past couple of years, the pause in construction allows for reflection on the city’s physical form.

At the first meeting of the year for the American Institute of Architects’ Middle East (AIA-ME) chapter at the Dubai Pavillion on January 29, architect Jonathan Ashmore of Anarchitect presented on the city’s context over the past 10 years:

  • Perception of it being a desert and ignoring the indigenous culture
  • Precedent of a postcard-like New York or Hong Kong
  • Infiltration of Dubai’s branding around the world using the Image of a successful skyline
  • Denial that the financial collapse would affect them, as there was still the buzz around the city, until the Exodus that cleared out the “dead wood” of the city.

    Now Dubai is at its Crux, the decisive stage, and there’s a Gap in the built environment.

    Plans for Business Bay, a development that is not fully completed. / Image via Real Estate Webmasters.

    “Empty space is space for renewal,” said Ashmore. “The city became fragmented, it’s not concentrated like in Europe.” These voids are opportunity for Integrated solutions and Regeneration — and re-establishing the Identity of the city and region.

    “These shouldn’t be demolitions,” said Ashmore, emphasizing reuse. “You cannot compare Dubai to global cities that have undergone cycles of growth, decay and rebirth. Now it’s time for small projects for integration and connect the interstitial spaces on a human scale.”

    Areas with potential include Ras Al-Khor (industrial district) and Business Bay (new central business district), he said. “We have to look at the micro and macro scales,” he said, emphasizing both the pedestrian scale and knitting together neighborhoods on a larger level.

    Architects responded favorably, offering a swirling mix of solutions. These ranged from top-down scaling like more central planning and having a visionary leader to push through plans, and also from the ground-up: more input from Dubai citizens, coordination with local architecture students, and temporary reuse of structures like in San Diego, Berlin or New York’s SOHO district.

    Solidere's Master Plan in the City Center (1994). Beirut's unplanned development could offer a model for Dubai. / Image via Worldview Cities.

    “But why even look that far?” one participant pointed out. Beirut, since its civil war ended in 1990, has been redeveloping spaces both from an official level with Solidère’s rebuilding the downtown, and from regular residents opening stores in half-constructed buildings.

    There does seem to be progress — the American University of Sharjah has an impressive College of Architecture, Art and Design; while Art Dubai and Design Days Dubai (in March 2012) offer the framework for reshaping the city.

    The meeting concluded with Victor Schoone talking about the upcoming annual World Water Day on March 12, 2012, the We Are Water Foundation‘s “We Art Water” film festival, and a screening of the film “Aral, the Lost Sea,” an ethereal look at the near-destruction of the Aral Sea in Central Asia.