x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Good intentions lead to Musaffah

Moving garages and other workshops away from Abu Dhabi's centre may improve the capital's appearance but will raise a host of new issues for many consumers and business owners.

Exiling automobile workshops from Abu Dhabi's central business district, and banishing certain other businesses from the entire island, is a well-intentioned policy, but it carries the risk of significant unfortunate consequences.

One year ago, the Municipality decreed that car workshops, parts dealers, tyre repair shops and even car washes in the central business district - from the Corniche to Falah Street and from Al Meena to King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz Street - must move out of the area. The deadline is fast approaching. Meanwhile, carpentry shops, building-materials dealers and certain other businesses are being required to leave Abu Dhabi island altogether and move to Musaffah.

The planners' stated goal is "to maintain the civilised appearance of Abu Dhabi Island, provide proper health environment, and upgrade the level of services rendered". These are laudable goals.

But instead of upgrading services, this policy could result in new problems for merchants and customers alike.

How can the owner of a modest hand-carpentry shop, for example, afford to move? If he lives near his shop, his whole family will have to relocate. Can he be confident that his customers will follow him?

Nor is the policy necessarily helpful to consumers. If you live in the Tourist Club area, say, you'll need to go across town to find even a replacement headlight bulb. And while the policy may beautify the central business district, it will do nothing for the charm of the rest of the island, where auto-related businesses will become more numerous. Existing workshops outside the central district will not welcome new competition.

As for the other types of businesses affected, well, if you need a few tiles for a home-improvement project, we wish you a nice trip to Musaffah.

Urban planning is essential today. The rapid growth of Abu Dhabi and Dubai would have been unimaginable without careful planning. And it is heartening that the Municipality is working against noise, air and visual pollution. But there must be better ways than this to do so.

A metropolis is not just a plan on paper. It is a thick web of slowly developed organic links among people, institutions and businesses. Sometimes that requires a little grime among the glitz.