Rapid change is one of the constants in Abu Dhabi. Everywhere you look, things are being ripped down or built up.
Everywhere, that is, but in a tiny corner of Al Bateen. In one of the municipality's oldest occupied areas, time has almost stood still. The many dhows on trailers that line the streets speak of the area's connection to the water and of its strong fishing past. It is precisely that past that will bring about the neighbourhood's greatest change.
When House & Home first visited the area bounded by Zayed the First, 32nd streets and the water two years ago, there was nothing to suggest the changes that were on the horizon. And, while the neighbourhood is still among the city's most serene, it too is undergoing massive change.
The grand villas and lush vegetation that dot the area may remain unaltered, but its connection to the sea is growing stronger. Al Bateen Marina project, which will include a five-star hotel, will draw tourists and residents alike to this tranquil area. The hotel will open in 2013, while other parts of the project will finish by mid-2012. The highlight for many living here will be a four-kilometre-long promenade complete with restaurants and shops. The plan calls for landscaped, pedestrian-friendly routes from Bainuna Street and other nearby neighbourhoods to the waterfront.
A 323-berth marina was unveiled this year. And, as a nod to its fishing past (and present), the plans call for a community centre where stories of the area's fishing past can be shared. Perhaps stories about places such as the old dhow repair yard on the sand along Bainuna, torn up this year and replaced by a parking area.
These significant new developments, however, have done little to alter the peaceful feeling that permeates.
On a Tuesday in the early evening, with the sun just beginning to set on Abu Dhabi, the residents of Al Bateen are starting to emerge on to what have been, for much of the day, empty streets.
A group of Arab boys riding bicycles and four-wheelers do tricks and spray water with their tyres, enjoying the early evening together. A young couple passes minutes later, looking forward to a cool evening walk.
Devoid of the hustle and bustle of the young city just outside its perimeter, this neighbourhood in the northern part of Al Bateen looks and feels older than almost anywhere else in the city.
A stroll through the streets reveals that most of the neighbourhood contrasts with much of the rest of the city. It's a place where the pace is gentler, and where hushed tones are customary. Large, older villas with chipping paint and rusting gates that are left open reveal household staff cooking meals, hanging clean clothes on a line, washing cars or loading up wooden dhows. Sandy, uneven footpaths strewn with ripe dates fallen from overgrown palms suggest how the rest of Abu Dhabi might have looked only a few years ago.
While newer villas are starting to emerge, most of the intricate network of roads and alleyways leads to homes with a bit of history. A few townhouses, in pink and yellow and with numerous potted plants sitting atop their walls, line the streets. But it is mostly home to more stately villas with large yards and expensive 4x4s in the driveways.
It's also known for its many schools. The American Community School of Abu Dhabi, just off of 32nd Street, accounts for much of the neighbourhood's traffic during the day. While some students live within walking distance of its doors, most are brought in by bus or car. Coco Zabriskie, an American seventh grader at ACS, gets picked up by her mother. She is looking forward to a time when she is old enough to participate in after-school rituals such as study sessions and snacks with friends at the nearby cafe at The One. "A lot of kids walk to The One, or to Spinneys after school because they are both so close," she says.
Elsewhere in the neighbourhood, the French Lycée and Al Ghazali Model School are also brimming with youthful activity. Other organisations, such as the Future Centre, a non-profit organisation for special needs, also draw families to the area.
Sinan Supermarket, on Street 25, is one of the only grocery stores within the neighbourhood's boundaries. "People of all backgrounds come to this store at all hours of the day - especially during lunch time," says Saleem Khader, who manages the store. It sits next door to Al Zaeem Refreshment, a new cafe that serves such staples as fried chicken, fish and chips, and turkey sandwiches.
Looming in the distance are new developments such as the nearly completed Etihad Towers, another huge project that signals the inevitable changes throughout Abu Dhabi. Despite the massive marina project, Al Bateen somehow seems apart from all this. Something its residents are grateful for.
What residents say
Rachel Watts, Australia
We like it here because it’s close to downtown, yet it’s still quiet. It’s near to the Corniche, and there are lots of places to park.
Jaffar Ali, Pakistan
I’ve been here for 13 years. It’s different now. The roads are bigger, and things are much faster. I like to eat at Al Zaeem Refreshments, enjoy living near the Intercontinental Hotel, and enjoy the slow pace of Al Bateen.
Three-bedroom villas start at Dh250,000, while upscale, four-bedroom villas rent from about Dh320,000.
The neighbourhood, home to many schools, is always busy with children. Schools include the American Community School, Al Bateen Model School, Future Centre for Special Needs, Stepping Stones Nursery, French Lycée, Al Ghazali Model School, the UAE Academy and the United Arabic Institute of Nursing.
Several popular medical offices are located here, including the Swedish Medical Center, Advanced American Dental Center and Al Bateen Primary Health Center
Spinneys is the nearest large grocer, sitting on the opposite side of Zayed the First Street. Inside the neighbourhood you’ll find Sinan Supermarket and The Dates Grocery.
Taxis are plentiful along Zayed the First and Bainuna streets; several buses stop along the main roads.