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Abu Dhabi looks to a future full of fareej

Urban planners say Abu Dhabi will be a more neighbourhood-centric community in the future.

ABU DHABI //The capital's urban planners see a future Abu Dhabi that will have closer-knit communities, more pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods and easily accessible recreational areas.

"The new organism is neighbourhoods and walkable communities," said Eyyad al Khalaileh, an urban planner and architect who works as a planning and development adviser in Al Gharbia. "People should be able to walk out from their doors and be in a community space where they can meet people," he said. "There is now more of an understanding of the value of space and the value of community."

As part of the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan, future projects will put emphasis on community development and the creation of "liveable neighbourhoods" that offer a mix of residences, shopping, services, recreation and workplaces.

"One of the benefits of sustainability is creating cool neighbourhoods," said Aysha Abu Shahab, an associate planner at the Urban Planning Council (UPC). "We're working on making the city more compact and making it so the amenities are closer to each other and reducing the need of transport.

"We need to plan a community that maximises walking because we provide shading for commuters."

Developing traditional Emirati housing is also a priority for the UPC. Called fareej, the neighbourhoods consist of clusters of homes placed around a central courtyard or outdoor recreational space. Small paths connect homes to one another and other community facilities and public spaces.

"When it comes to a neighbourhood plan, we have to ask ourselves 'What makes a great city?'," said Talal al Ansari, a senior urban designer at the Urban Design Studio. "The answer is sustainability, the paths and streets that are pedestrian-oriented, and the open spaces that can host activities."

Each fareej cluster would be designed as an interconnected network with play areas, shaded walkways and amenities such as clinics, shops and schools.

With the UPC estimating that the population of the emirate will increase to 2.5 million by 2031, strategic land use is becoming a priority. But one of the biggest challenges will be changing the attitudes of residents.

"Before, there was not a lot of thought on how to build communities; they were built on a linear path and everything - utilities, sewers - were extended to homes that were built based on commuting and privacy," Mr al Khalaileh said. "No one can afford the linear model for long. Slowly, I think people will learn the value of space."

The neighbourhood planning model could be in place within five years, he said.

Urban planners are also looking to make better use of available land in the emirate by focusing on parking infrastructure - including underground car parks - and cutting down on building frontage, which can sometimes exceed 40 metres.

"We're planning Abu Dhabi for the next generation," said Ms Abu Shahab. "We want a new mindset for Abu Dhabi residents. At the end of the day, these communities and buildings serve the people, and people come first."

jthomas@thenational.ae

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