Planning for the next generation: Urban growth plans to ensure sustainable development

The authorities in Abu Dhabi have a long-term vision for the emirate, one that encompasses not only economic diversification but also carefully orchestrated urban growth that is sustainable and reflects the local culture. The Urban Planning Council (UPC), a government agency established by Emiri decree in 2007, plays an important role in this process, preparing overarching blueprints for development that can then be implemented by local authorities.

HISTORY: According to its mandate, the UPC “defines the shape of the emirate”, overseeing development both in the capital city, as well as in the regions of Al Ain and Al Gharbia. The council coordinates with both public and private sector entities, often working directly with developers and their consultants at different stages of a project. The UPC also ensures that developers adhere to all relevant regulations and guidelines.

To date, the council has published three major urban development plans: Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: Urban Structure Framework Plan; Plan Al Ain 2030 and Plan Al Gharbia 2030. The first of the three, introduced in 2007, is focused on Abu Dhabi City, specifying land uses, building heights and transportation plans. This plan also provides for a substantial amount of new residential developments for Emiratis.

RECENT UPDATES: Similarly, Plan Al Ain 2030, which was first rolled out in 2009, takes into consideration projected economic and demographic trends for Al Ain, laying out some overarching principles for the region’s development. This plan was followed up with the more detailed Wasat Madinat Al Ain Plan, focused on the urban centre of Al Ain City, and more recently with the Development Plan for Urban Areas in Al Ain, which was introduced by the UPC in March 2012. This latest document identifies a series of planning policies and projects for the region’s 64 districts that surround the downtown heart of Al Ain City.

According to a public statement by Amer Al Hammadi, the director of planning and infrastructure at the UPC, implementing the new urban areas plan for Al Ain will bring additional facilities to the area while still ensuring the historical features of the city.

“It ensures a high quality of life for all residents by providing adequate community facilities, such as schools and clinics, along with a number of parks and plazas, and identifies development policies that will protect the character of Al Ain's neighbourhoods and facilitate new development opportunities,” he said.

PREP WORK: To prepare the Al Ain Development Plan for Urban Areas, the UPC carried out primary research, including a survey of 11,000 households in the emirate and analysis of demographic data provided by Statistics Centre – Abu Dhabi. The UPC also relied on its inhouse geographical information systems department, which provides spatial planning analysis that can be used to support the planning process.

Indeed, with the emirate experiencing a rapid pace of development, having accurate and timely information at hand can be very important, according to Khaled Al Melhi, the CEO of Bayanat, an Abu-Dhabi based company that provides geospatial data products and services to both government and private sector entities. “The changing landscape of the UAE places great emphasis on the need for reliable and up-to-date topographic digital data and maps in order to effectively and timely manage those changes,” he told OBG. Al Melhi added that there are a variety of applications for this kind of information, noting that the government can use geospatial data to better develop tender proposals for major infrastructure projects such as rail, roads and pipelines. The uses in the private sector are similar, including preparation for real estate projects.

While the emirate has undergone steady and manageable growth since the discovery of oil in the mid20th century, recent changes such as the introduction of private ownership of land have created the potential for more rapid growth. However, authorities in the emirate have taken a number of steps, including the formation of the UPC, to ensure that growth is sustainable and in line with the government’s priorities.

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The Report: Abu Dhabi 2013

Construction & Real Estate chapter from The Report: Abu Dhabi 2013

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