Twenty years ago Kamil Ibrahin's family moved into a new apartment in a three-storey building in the capital's Nadja neighbourhood. Ibrahin remembers a quiet area where everyone knew each other's name: "It was like a small town here. I had a happy childhood and it was a great place to grow up."
Two decades later, Kamil and his family still live in the same apartment, but the building has gone through quite a transformation, with an extra 10 storeys now topping the original structure, pushing it closer to the sky. And that once "small town" has grown into a busy neighbourhood of commerce and government, as well as providing a home for an expanding population. This area is bounded by Sheikh Zayed the Second Street (also known as Electra), Al Salam, Al Falah and Bani Yas Najda streets. It is split by 10th Street, the smaller link road that runs between Al Salam Street and Bani Yas Najda.
Kamil's apartment block is on Bani Yas Najda, where taller buildings mark the neighbourhood's edge. At street level these blocks house a selection of shops and car showrooms (Nissan and Mitsubishi) as well as a new La Brioche café, serving up the usual wide selection of French cakes and delicacies. Moving in, off the main street and to the back of the buildings, the neighbourhood opens up to into spacious plots and you will find two schools: Ajnadeen School for Basic Education Cycle 1 and al Yarmouk School for Basic Education Cycle 2.
Hussein Mohamed, from Yemen, works and lives in this part of the area and has just one complaint: parking. He often circles the roads close to his apartment, sometimes for up to an hour, trying to find somewhere to park his Land Cruiser. "I get so fed up with the situation. I pop out for some groceries but someone gets your parking space as soon as you drive off. Then, when I return it just takes forever to find another."
Outside one building is a small garden offering a patch of green where mature trees and shrubs flourish. Residents stop to chat here, while the birds sing and a couple of young children play happily in the sand. At the weekend the streets are quiet and the parking spaces near the office buildings are empty. Only the call to prayer and the occasional game of car park cricket give any sense of urgency.
Moving across to the Al Salam Street side of the neighbourhood the block takes on a whole new feel. It moves from residential towers to buildings of government. In this area, known as the Ministries Area, you will find many of the city's primary government agencies. Like a partially hidden gem, a small formal park sits between these government buildings on the Salam Street side of the block, where the blue tiles of the fountains glisten, the trees are mature and benches are positioned to ensure plenty of shade. It is a beautiful and surprising spot. Unfortunately, the sound of the Al Salam Street improvement works reverberates all around, interrupting the peace, drowning out the sound of the birds.
Down towards the block's dividing road, 10th Street, you'll find the Vision Twin Towers hotel apartments as well as the Embassy of The Republic of Hungary and the Austrian Embassy. A large Etisalat office, a Civil Defence Centre and Barclays Bank are also situated here. Meanwhile, Starbucks and Le Pain Quotidien are popular places to meet friends and take time out. Crossing 10th Street, the neighbourhood takes on another feel. The smaller segment of the district takes its character from its proximity to Zayed the Second Street and is a thriving mix of commercial and residential buildings.
Here, there is a labyrinth of streets made up of wide pavements, five- and six-storey residential buildings, a few empty plots where buildings once stood and the Saif bin Darwish Mosque, with its single tower minaret and ornate patterns around its doors and walls. The small retail outlets found at street level sell a range of bathroom sanitary ware, building materials and electrical supplies. The streets are busy with customers and workers all day. By evening these commercial shops close and it becomes a much quieter residential area.
Riyuz Shaikh, from India, has lived near one of the small electrical supplies shop for years. "The best thing about this area is the choice of food. My favourite is Chappan Bhog but then there is Moti Mahal and the Royal Orchid Thai restaurant," he adds. "With such choice is it lucky that I am so thin." With the tempting smell of fresh roti bread from Al Zafaran Bakery wafting over nearby streets, locals line up at lunchtime for their Dh1 fill.
A branch of Zaatar W Zeit is perhaps a more well-known eatery in this area. There are also some larger showrooms for bathrooms, kitchens and a very useful shop that makes bespoke wardrobes, Creative Closets. Layla Abrahim, from Jordan, has lived in this part of the neighbourhood for 16 years. Her children are now grown up, but she has kept their old buggy for her shopping trips, loading it with the goods she buys before wheeling it home. "There is everything I need here, there are food shops, a butchers, bakery and fresh fruit and vegetables. I have my driving licence but choose not to drive here. I don't need to as I can walk from my house and get everything, and I really mean everything."
Meanwhile, another shop, the Grand Butcher's, has gathered a loyal following. Catrina Ahmed, from Ukraine, has lived in the Manasir district for 30 years but she still crosses the city to visit, in her opinion, "the best butcher in town". Most residents and visitors share a common complaint: there isn't sufficient parking. Cars park in the middle of the road, sometimes two in parallel, leaving only a very narrow route for drivers to pass through. There is good news on the horizon, however. Plans for paid parking, along with new parking restrictions, should ease the congestion.
Mohammed Shakir, from India, and his friend enjoy a leisurely stroll on a Friday morning through the length of the neighbourhood they call home. "We live in the city but have so much space and fresh air. And then, not far away are the shopping malls, the Corniche, the parks and lots of other things to do. I think we may renew our lease on the apartment next year."