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.

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Abu Dhabi: Guggenheim concrete bids recalled, Etihad Rail awards contracts, UAE pavilion arrives.

Rough week for construction in Abu Dhabi — TDIC recalled the concrete bids for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, likely pushing the opening date past 2013. (The National)

A computer rendering of the Guggenheim Museum on Saadiyat Island. Its 2013 opening is likely delayed. / Image via The National.

The emirate was also named the worst construction market in the GCC, according to investment bank Arqaam Capital. (Construction Week) I don’t understand how, since all over the city there’s new construction of houses, hotels and malls.

Maybe the slow sales Sorouh’s mini-city on Al Reem Island — capable of housing an astounding 200,000 people — are indicative of the downtrend. (Construction Week) Rents are finally dropping in Abu Dhabi — or at least in the suburbs? — as 50,000 more homes are slated to be built by 2013. (The National) More developers like Emaar in Dubai seem to be focusing on affordable housing. (Construction Week).

The UAE Pavilion, at its new location on Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. / Image via Construction Week.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Abu Dhabi’s Urban Planning Council won an international award for excellence. (Zawya), the UAE’s golden dune-like Shanghai Expo pavilion by Foster and Partners is now on Saadiyat Island (Construction Week), Siemens broke ground on its Masdar City headquarters, slated to be completed by 2013 (Construction Week) and Sharjah hopes to turn its Souq Al Arsa into a UNESCO World Heritage Site (The National).

Transportation news is strong too — Etihad Rail awarded the $3 billion contracts to Dodsal Engineering and Construction, and Italian firms Saipem and Technimont and their northern freight rail network is slated to be done by 2014. (Construction Week)

Elsewhere in the region…
Qatar is spending $150 billion on infrastructure over the next 5 years, in the build up to the 2020 World Cup. They’ve started construction on Doha’s Festival City. And now they’re investing in Egyptian luxury accommodations. (Construction Week)

Oman is heavily investing in infrastructure and luxury tourism to sextuple its tourism from 1.6 million visitors in 2010 to 12 million visitors in 2020. (Construction Week)

In the Levant, could public space with more parks and room for pedestrians improve life in Amman, Jordan? (Tareeq) In Lebanon, Beirut could use more mass transit to relieve traffic. (Mashallah News)