The cluster of condos near Dubai's Festival City, which brings to mind the lofty grandeur of ancient Yemeni architecture, is a very successful example of a created community. Jola Chudy reports While the ancient Yemeni city of Sana'a can lay claim to the world's oldest Arabian skyscrapers, the sand-coloured blocks of Al Badia may cheekily pretend to be Dubai's most ancient fort palace. Of course, they're not - but the cluster of modern condominiums that you can't fail to notice if you've ever been to Dubai Festival City certainly looks the part, built into a steep manmade hillside and overlooking the surrounding area with a certain lofty grandeur.
The tall, wind-tower topped walls, with fake boulders, small "archer" windows and high enclosed walls all make for a slightly incongruous piece of architecture, set as it is next to a giant blue-and-yellow Ikea, a warehouse-sized Ace Hardware and Garden Centre, and the DFC shopping mall complex. But this is no empty pastiche, it's a particularly successful example of a created community in Dubai. Just a few years ago the area was nothing but sand overlooking a busy motorway linking Garhoud to what was then the outskirts - Mirdif. Today it thrives with a friendly community of people who have made the unusual Hillside Village, as well as the more standard (and undeniably luxurious) villas around it their home and base in Dubai.
"There is certainly a strong sense of community in this part of town," says Vikram Jhaveri, whose family is lucky enough to live in one of the tree-lined and landscaped streets of villas just a short walk from the local Spinney's. "My teenage cousins have many friends here and everyone is particularly friendly. We know our neighbours, a French family, and I enjoy spending time chatting over the fence with their three young children when they play in the garden. I have to admit, I'm not sure they understand me even though I did study French, but it's lovely to watch them playing with their friends."
Vikram's family owns several jewellery stores in Dubai and Mumbai, and he divides his time between the two cities, spending a total of about five or six months a year in Dubai. He says that Al Badia is perfectly located for those whose work requires a commute. "Here, you live in one of the most tranquil, peaceful places in Dubai, but you are only two minutes from a fast main road that connects you to the rest of town very conveniently." The airport is also very close.
The villas and apartment blocks in Al Badia (known as Al Badia Residences) are built in a loosely Mediterranean style, with arches, cobbled walkways, red-tiled roofs and semi-enclosed courtyards creating a laid-back, pedestrian-friendly ambience. The neighbourhood lies on the edge of the road linking Garhoud to Rashidiya and Mirdif, although it doesn't feel like it because of the wall of trees. The other side of the neighbourhood overlooks an ornamental lake and the distinctive oval clubhouse of Four Seasons Golf Club. There are small, quiet roads linking the villas, apartments and Hillside Village to each other and to Deira International School on one side, with easy access to Dubai Festival City on the other.
Set as it is, away from the main road, it's the kind of place you'd happily let your children play in, reassured by the discreet presence of security guards around each tower. The family-friendly vibe has made a big impact on her social life, says Eve Sailsman, another resident. "When I moved to Dubai I was worried about making friends and not knowing anyone, but the layout of the neighbourhood has made it easy to meet people. Each apartment block has its own garden and play area where the parents can take their children to play, and it's meant getting to know your neighbours is much easier, even with the language barriers." Her three-year-old son, Isaac, knows no such barriers. "Kids aren't shy about who they talk to, so he's made friends from many different countries. I suppose adults are a bit more keen to meet people with a common language. But bringing him down here to play means we've made new friends easily since moving here 18 months ago."
Eve has just stepped out of Al Areesh Club, which is a focal point for the community. The club was built with residents in mind, although it is open to non-residents too. Al Areesh complex houses cafes and a restaurant, a gym, swimming pool and tennis courts, as well as the local Spinneys supermarket. "I've just been to the hairdresser here as we're going to a charity dinner at the British Embassy this evening," she explains. "If it wasn't raining you would see a lot more people here using the facilities. The staff know everyone and are very welcoming, which helps make it feel more like a community centre. It's also very convenient as it is right on our doorstep. If you need anything else there are plenty of good shops in the mall, such as Marks & Spencer, which is popular with the Brits." The mall backs onto a small, decorative waterway, which is lined with cafes and restaurants. A little further beyond, luxurious boats bob in the new marina, while the two five-star hotels at the end of the promenade offer more sophisticated entertainment in the shape of several award-winning restaurants and popular bars, including a French restaurant run by a Michelin-starred chef, and the earthier Belgian Beer Café, which is very busy every weekend with patrons unwinding over strong ales and steaming bowls of moules-frītes.
"The facilities here are A-plus," enthuses Vikram. "We used to live in Al Rigga, which was much more boisterous, but here you can step outside your front door and walk around in tranquillity. The recreational services are great. My family loves swimming here at weekends and it is generally a very restful place to live. We feel very lucky to call it home."
Emilie Nation, Australia I've lived here two years and I really like it. It is close to my school, Deira International, and at weekends I go to Al Areesh Club with my friends. It's a good sports centre with courts and a pool, and I can hang out without having to walk very far from home. Al Badia is a nice place to live because of the community - everyone knows each other and it's a friendly place. A lot of my school friends also live here. We go to the Festival City Mall at weekends and we can walk there. Shantanu Suri, India It is a safe and quiet area with no problems to speak of. The mall is five minutes away so there are things to do at weekends without having to drive far from the neighbourhood. I've made friends in the area so at weekends we might call on each other and spend time at each other's houses or go down to the local sports club. That's a good part of living here; there is no bad side. Rianda Touhari, Algeria I moved here because it I found it a very pleasant place to live. Plus it was very close to my office in Rashidiya, where I work as a lawyer. What I like is that it's very quiet and it's not hectic. You're centrally located in Dubai but it feels relaxed. I'm a member of the club, although I don't get to use it as much as I'd like - but having things so close to home makes a big difference.