x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Consultation on RAK development

The dilemma in Al Rams highlights a national issue: community development requires the input of the community.

The tranquil fishing village of Al Rams, a few kilometres up the coast from Ras Al Khaimah city, has something in common with countless small settlements around the world: economics, demographics and history have left it behind.

The antique charm of the village was captured vividly in The National yesterday: "Al Rams, like its people, is built from the sea. Its houses tell the story of the land and its citizens: traders, pearlers, fishermen and mountain men who lived in houses built of palm, coral, seashells, Zanzibari wood, and for the privileged, mountain stone."

Why, then, are most of these homes now derelict, or used as labour camps? Because the world has moved on: pearling is no longer an industry, fishing is increasingly a corporate enterprise, coral is no longer used in construction, modern building methods offer greater comfort and government is offering homes in new developments to more Emiratis each year.

Around the world, mechanised agriculture, economies of scale and urban allure are moving people into cities. Many leave their remote hometowns with barely a look back. But Al Rams, our story made clear, still has a strong sense of place and community. "Our motto - Al Rams as one family," a sign proclaims.

This natural feeling has created a dilemma for the RAK government, which must now choose between building a new modern Al Rams or renovating the old-style homes. Officials will soon visit the community to measure the practicality of the two options.

When they do, we hope they will listen attentively to the residents; the voices of these heirs to a traditional way of life deserve to be heard. Much of the current housing is not acceptable by today's standards, but a community is more than bricks, mortar and hypermarkets; in a country so bursting with new construction, there should also be a place, if residents want it, for lovingly restored reminders of how life used to be.

"Old town" districts, from Al Bastakiya in Dubai to heritage villages in many countries, have offered a compromise, balancing the costs of maintaining old structures against the added value of tourism. The drawback is that when the place in question was "unspoilt", it was emphatically not a tourist magnet.

Change is inevitable; not all of it is welcome. The RAK government, and the people of Al Rams, have a difficult choice to make.