High-rise apartment blocks are drawing new residents and conveniences to this Abu Dhabi neighbourhood, known for its relaxed atmosphere and waterfront location, writes Christine Iyer
It's a windy Friday afternoon, and young families, lugging everything from beach umbrellas to cycles, slowly start to emerge from sparkling new buildings that have redefined Khalidiya's skyline. They're off to the Corniche, a five-minute walk away, and there's plenty of shouting and laughter as they negotiate the traffic cones and bags of cement that line the street.
Two years ago, Khalidiya was a different story. One of the capital's most desirable addresses, the neighbourhood extends from 30th Street all the way to Spinneys between Corniche Road and Zayed the First Street. The once quiet and airy neighbourhood, with its rows of white 1980s-style villas, swanky car showrooms and its biggest draw, the Corniche, now has a distinctly busy feel, thanks to the rash of new developments and the hordes of new residents who've recently moved in.
Gwen Richards, a stay-at-home mum from the US, doesn't mind the changes too much. "I've lived in a villa close to Spinneys for several years and honestly think it's the best neighbourhood in the city. It's not as quiet as it used to be, of course. My weekly shopping at the supermarket takes longer now because there are more customers, and the queues at the next-door Etisalat office are a nightmare. But the parks are full of children and their mums, whom we are slowly getting to know. It feels nice that the neighbourhood is expanding in such a way."
With the gradual fall in property prices all over the city in the past year, Khalidiya also became affordable to a wider section of people.
"It was going to happen sooner or later," says Jonathan Wei, a property analyst from Hong Kong who visits Abu Dhabi frequently and lives in a three-bedroom apartment in an older building behind the Premier Motors showroom on Zayed the First Street. "It's astonishing how much the rents have dropped; two years ago, a two-bedroom with a sea view in this neighbourhood didn't cost anything less than Dh150,000 a year. Now, it's as low as Dh120,000. No wonder all the apartments were booked within weeks of the properties coming on the market."
But some residents, who in September moved into the new high rises on the corner of Zayed the First and 32nd streets, are annoyed that roadwork around the buildings is still going on several months after they were told that it would be completed in a few weeks.
Fausia Mohammed, a sales manager from Egypt, says she's taken to leaving her car in the lot beside the park on Corniche Road. "I have a lovely apartment with a sea view, but finding parking around the building is a big issue. There are diggers outside my window day and night. In fact, the moving vans have no access to the building entrance, can you imagine?"
At Caramel, a tiny beauty salon on the ground floor of the new Pearl Plaza building, the atmosphere is warm and relaxed. Young women sit with their feet in large copper bowls, sipping cups of tea and reading magazines, and a little girl stares in fascination at the colourful rows of nail varnish on the shelves.
Aida Abdul Sater, the owner, says she picked the location because it's the best neighbourhood in the city.
"Khalidiya has a classy, upmarket feel, so it was my first choice. We had a soft opening in December and I've already got a loyal band of customers, mostly from this building and the next. I think the women find it extremely convenient to simply pop downstairs for a manicure. Many of them bring their children, too. I also get a lot of walk-in customers, especially those who visit the fitness club in this building. But the delayed roadwork has prevented me from having a grand opening or even advertising on a larger scale because there isn't any space to park cars. I'm beginning to get worried because while business has been OK so far, insh'Allah, I will soon need to attract more people."
But most of the new families in Khalidiya don't mind the dug-up streets and parking inconveniences because the proximity to the beach and landscaped gardens of the Corniche more than make up for it.
Indrani Roy moved to Abu Dhabi from the UK about a month ago and lives in a two-bedroom apartment in the new Khalidiya Tower with her two-year-old son and husband.
"The weather, especially after living in the UK, comes as a wonderful surprise. I can't believe we have a beach and beautiful parks right in front of our home. It's a real blessing. I'm still to make new friends and find my way about the city, but I'm already in love with this neighbourhood - it's safe, the neighbours are friendly, and I've found a grocery round the corner with an efficient delivery service."
Dominic Angco, a 22-year-old Filipino who works at the Crepes Bar on the Corniche, lives a little way down Zayed the First Street. "I take a cab to work because it's just a five-minute drive and doesn't cost much. I think I'm lucky to work by the beach. It's lovely in this weather. We have quite a few new customers who frequent our cafe regularly. I think they live in the new buildings across the road," he says, pointing. "Business is still slow on weekdays, but the weekends are quite hectic. You won't believe this, but despite working here right through the week, I come back on my off day. I love this area. It's a lovely place to be."
A two-bedroom apartment in one of the new buildings costs from Dh130,000 per annum. Three-bedroom apartments cost from Dh140,000, according to Cold River Real Estate.
The American Community School (kindergarten to grade 12), is located behind the BMW showroom on 32nd Street.
Ibn Sina Clinic and Manhal Pharmacy are on the corner of 30th and Zayed the First streets.
The neighbourhood has a large Choithram Supermarket. Beside it is Scent of a Flower florist shop and Kodak Express. Etisalat has a branch next to Spinneys.
There are many open-air shisha cafes along Corniche Road. The One has a restaurant on the mezzanine floor. Jones the Grocer is soon to open an outlet at Pearl Plaza. The Women and Children's Park is opposite Dana Tower on 32nd Street, and there are plenty of green spaces with play equipment along Corniche Road. Access to the family beach costs Dh10 for adults and Dh5 for children under 12.
What residents say
Meg Chang, Canada
Moving into this neighbourhood is the best thing to have happened to us. I never have to use my car, and my toddler loves to play in the park beside my building or on the beach. My building has parking in the basement, so we're lucky.
Sara Faizal, Pakistan
We were apprehensive about moving here because my children go to school at the other end of the city and the traffic is bad. But we are so close to the Corniche that we don't mind so much. The children love being outdoors, and we always spend Friday on the beach.
Lisa Augustine, Philippines
I work as a nanny for a family who recently moved here. It's a great place to live because it has all the amenities and the children can go out to play every day. I find it very convenient that I can stop to pick up essentials from the small grocery store on our way back from the park or beach.