x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Abu Dhabi keeps making strides toward greatness

In the wake of the Cities of Opportunity survey, ranking the world's best urban areas, Abu Dhabi's plan for the future points to continued success.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

The scene is Madrid city centre in late April in what should be the dead hours of the night. Instead, thousands of football fans line the Spanish capital's streets waiting for their returning heroes - the Real Madrid football team - who earlier that evening had won the Spanish cup final for the first time in years.

A few weeks later and the place is now Abu Dhabi on a Saturday evening. Manchester City, a football club with significant links to this country's capital, have just claimed their first piece of silverware in a generation. A cause for celebration, perhaps? In contrast to the mayhem in Madrid, Abu Dhabi's streets are lined with no one more excitable than small clusters of Saturday evening strollers, blissfully unaware of a recent contest played out on a far-off football field.

Such a comparison is not entirely fair. In Madrid it is almost impossible to escape the presence of one of the world's most famous sporting clubs - from its vast training facilities on the road that leads from the airport to the city centre, to its family theme park on the outskirts of the capital - while Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed's remarkable investment in Manchester City is trailed far less flashily in these parts. His extraordinary backing has reaped substantial rewards for almost everyone connected with Manchester City and, by virtue of the English Premier League attracting a large global television audience, has more often than not grabbed the attention of the world at large. But what does that audience find when they focus their attention on us?

Cities of Opportunity, a recent study conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, the multinational consultancy and accountancy practice, sought to rank 26 of the world's metropolitan areas (including Abu Dhabi) in a range of categories, in an attempt to find the globe's greatest city.

Abu Dhabi finished top of the pile in two classifications, scoring highly for its lack of income tax and its recruitment laws, and tied for second place for its air quality. Bizarrely, PWC also rated Abu Dhabi highly for its ease of commuting during rush hour (I'm not sure too many stressed-out commuters would necessarily vouch for that particular finding) and in terms of skyscraper construction. This much is the good news.

Overall though Abu Dhabi ranked only 18th in the standings, trailing well behind the more established top five of New York, Toronto, San Francisco, Sydney and Stockholm. But, as the years progress, as the high-level construction cranes come down to reveal a city magically reinventing itself, where will we rank in future years?

Abu Dhabi failed to rate at all in a raft of other recent surveys conducted in international magazines such as Forbes and Monocle. There is a relatively simple explanation for this. Often this type of "lifestyle" poll uses the slightly nebulous measure of such things as the ready availability of designer furniture outlets to determine how "world-class" a city might or might not be.

Genuinely, what should make or break a city's standing should be a far more substantial benchmark. Indeed, what should place Abu Dhabi highly in any survey is its dynamic population, its community drawn from all points of the globe, its relative safety and its economic certainty, which promises to deliver the city of all our dreams within the next two decades.

For now though, and one suspects this is a situation that will remain unchanged for many months to come, tens of thousands of football fans in the north-west of England are telling anyone who will listen to them that Abu Dhabi is the greatest place on earth. With enthusiastic ambassadors like that, who needs to be blown around by the fickle winds of surveys.