Planning for the Future

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At present, 930,000 people reside in the metropolitan area of Abu Dhabi and this number is expected to grow to over 3m by 2030. To accommodate this growth, the government has set forth targets for hotel rooms, schools, office and retail space and an integrated public transportation network. The increased capacity in all these areas is expected to be the catalyst for continued growth in the emirate and ensure the necessary infrastructure to support the booming population.

In late September, the Urban Planning Council, chaired by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, released an urban structure framework plan, known as Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. The plan addresses many of the major development issues the emirate currently faces during its expansion and diversification process.

As a whole, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has received increased global visibility and experienced rapid growth in the past years, attributed to the introduction of foreign ownership laws and positioning itself as an investment destination. This has created a need to develop a new plan to take the city into the coming decades.

A team of international specialists worked with the Abu Dhabi government for eight months to compile the estimated Dh600bn ($163bn) expansion plan. It is a guideline to ensure the growth of the emirate is managed in a sustainable manner so the capital will be positioned as a "global city."

One of the major new developments included in the plan is the development of the Capital District. This area will act as the heart for academic, government and knowledge-based sectors; consisting of a collection of 20 to 25 storey towers surrounded by low-density housing. The capital district will provide a second focus for employment in the city and will be a complementary development to the Central Banking District (CBD). By balancing employment opportunities between two the centres, the government hopes to disperse traffic and minimise congestion.

The Capital District will also serve as a transport hub for the metro lines and high-speed rail that will permeate the capital. The rail system will originate in the central souq train station and will run through the capital district, airport and eventually go on to Dubai. There will also be a network of light rail trams, buses and street-cars to ensure that public transport will be available within a five-minute walk from anywhere in the city.

Aside from designing world-class economic and business districts, the government has also incorporated three main policies to protect the environment and coastal ecosystem surrounding the developing capital. The plan establishes a national park system beside the city - an area that prohibits any development and will be closely monitored to preserve the natural habitat. Between the core of the national park and the city centre, the plan allows increasing levels of development through a green gradient area. Areas close to the national park will have restricted development while restrictions will be gradually relaxed further away from the park. Lastly, all new development will take place within the boundaries of a sand belt that will be the outer boundary of development to prevent urban sprawl. These measures attempt to minimise the environmental impacts of development.

While keeping environmental, transport and development concerns in mind, the plan also takes into account the large expatriate labour population that currently lives in Abu Dhabi. This segment of the work force will undoubtedly grow while the capital is transformed. The government has outlined guidelines for worker residences that are said to meet or exceed international benchmarks and standards. For example, the new plan requires temporary construction workers be provided appropriate accommodation on or near construction sites to cut down on excessive transport and bussing of the workers. Eventually, the settlements are planned to house a maximum of 5000 residents and have close access to religious, health and entertainment facilities.

One of the areas of major property development will be in the Central Banking District, centred on Al Suwwah Island and encompassing part of Al Mina and Al Reem islands. Developers of Al Reem Island had originally envisioned building a collection of high-rise towers to accommodate 350,000 residents, but the government has asked this be reduced to 200,000, according to Mounir Haider, CEO of Sorouh Real Estate. Some local analysts have expressed concern that these changes could put companies in a difficult position causing them to have to significantly redesign their development plans and financial forecasts.

The private sector is an integral part of achieving the planned landscape of Abu Dhabi in 2030. Falah Al Ahbabi, general manager of the Urban Planning Council, has stressed that foreign direct investment is essential to the capital's urban development over the next 20 years. He has encouraged private companies, especially in the real estate sector, to "express their entrepreneurial and creative spirit within the co-ordinated framework of a strong and decisive plan for the city."

The new plan is the first step to develop the city for future generations. For now, the Urban Planning Council will oversee the development of specific sites within the city. Eventually, this will extend to Al Ain and the Western Region.

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