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Development dreams are now built on reality

There's a much more down-to-earth atmosphere at the capital's annual property exhibition

It used to be all glamour and glitz. A few years ago, the Cityscape property exhibition was about dream project launches and people queuing up to buy into them. Nowadays, it is more about people looking for jobs rather than homes. In the past few days, Cityscape Abu Dhabi has been a great deal quieter than in previous years but has still attracted people looking for opportunities in the capital.

They are either service providers hoping to be involved in the emirate's continuing multimillion-dollar projects, or those simply searching for a more stable job. "I'm here to look for new projects that we can supply materials to," said Nabeel Ahyad, a project manager with Gulf Dura Industries, a Dubai-based maker of building materials. "There are some huge projects but the problem is there are usually more than 20 companies going for the same job."

A representative for a British company that advises developers on the creation of cultural zones in major projects attended Cityscape for the first time. Cliff, a consultant in his late 40s who asked not to be named in full, was at the show to talk to local developers. He was hoping to discuss how his company could help add "community value" to their projects, most of which tend to be sprawling residential areas.

"Anyone can throw up acres of housing, but if there are no cultural distractions within the community outside of TV or the cinema, then it becomes a dead area to live or work in," Cliff said. "I'm speaking to developers who want to have a cultural quarter within their projects, but the problem with a lot of those on show right now is that they have already been designed. [Cultural areas] really need to be thought about at the start of a project."

The financial downturn resulted in thousands of jobs being cut across the property and construction sectors in the UAE. While most of them went at the start of the slowdown in 2008, there are still people working in Dubai who are looking for more stable positions in the capital. You could also find them at Cityscape. "The project I'm working on is almost finishing, so I'm hoping to find work on a project in Abu Dhabi that is longer-term," said Jeff, a project manager in his late 30s who works for a Dubai-based construction consultancy, and who also asked not to be identified further.

But while job hunters mingled with the developers and senior executives, there were other property professionals eager to learn about how the industry has developed here. Dr Lim Boh Soon, a management partner at the Etech Yufu Private Equity Fund, which was set up by the Chinese government, was at Cityscape to give a talk about investments in China and other emerging markets in Asia. But Dr Lim was just as keen to find out about the UAE.

"I want to know more about its growth and its lifestyle," Dr Lim said. "So coming to Cityscape and seeing the companies and their projects has been very informative. "It is also good to let people here know about the investment opportunities in China, which is a big market and is very keen to attract investment from the Middle East." But it could be a while before Cityscape generates the sort of buying frenzy that was the hallmark of the 2008 show, with some analysts predicting that the slowdown could last another two years. Others believe quality projects will be the key driver for Cityscape in the future.

"I've lived here for 10 years but have never invested in property here ? you get close to it and see that the quality of some of it isn't what it should be," said Daniel Alcon, the chairman of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors UAE construction committee. agiuffrida@thenational.ae

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