ABU DHABI // The municipality plans to have 40 per cent more green space in Abu Dhabi by 2014, but residents across the capital are worried the city is hindering its own progress.
In the first few months of this year there have been more tree removal crews on city streets, and residents are puzzled and unhappy about what the municipality is calling "beautification efforts".
Rebekah Jamieson has lived in Abu Dhabi for 14 years, and said she was shocked to see the scale tree removal operations have reached.
"They're indiscriminately cutting down these beautiful trees," said Mrs Jamieson, 40, from the UK. "They're lopping them down. This is not a case of pruning; it's a case of butchering."
Mrs Jamieson said she has questioned crews uprooting greenery in the area of Khaleej al Arabi and 11th Street, but they do not have answers.
The municipality has said the pruning, which is continuing, is part of routine beautification maintenance aimed at keeping up the appearance of the city. Officials have said trees are removed only when they are diseased, dying or a danger to surrounding buildings.
Residents across the capital reported seeing more trees taken down this year than ever before. J N, 43, an Indian who lives near 15th Street and Al Karamah, said she was shocked to see all the greenery in her neighbourhood unceremoniously removed two weeks ago. "Every year, they came to chop the bushes, but this was different," she said. "This was a huge tree in front of a school that provided shade to children, and it was one of 10 trees they just cut down."
Earlier this month, municipal officials said that trees are sometimes cut down at the request of residents, who complain that the overgrown branches are unsightly, especially in residential areas and between villas.
As part of the Asematy campaign, which encourages residents to beautify their own areas, the municipality is working with communities to "rid suburbs and streets of these practices that distort the urbanised appearance of the city and undermine the security, safety, health and environment".
Linda Scholz, who lives in Al Bateen, called the tree removal a crime. "These trees are full of birds," said Mrs Scholz, an American. "They provide shade and privacy for my house. It's terrible what they're doing. Up until now, it's been mostly pruning, but to cut down an entire beautiful tree is unacceptable."
Many residents said the increased tree-trimming was especially upsetting considering the dedication of Sheikh Zayed to planting millions of trees in the emirates. "If Sheikh Zayed were still alive, this would never happen," Mrs Scholz said.
For J N, a self-proclaimed "flower lady", the destruction of the greenery is "a shame" after 25 years of watching trees and plants grow out of the desert landscape.
"If anyone comes to my neighbourhood, they won't even recognise my house," she said.
"It used to be so green, and now it really does look like the desert."