x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Here are my gripes for the Municipality. What are yours?

If Abu Dhabi Municipality wishes to optimise its operations effeciently, then surely public feedback is an essential part of that process.

In recent weeks, I have been getting increasingly grumpy, muttering about aspects of life in the capital that irritate me, even though I know there's absolutely nothing I can do about them. It may be because of the summer heat, something that is to be tolerated rather than enjoyed.

Or it could be because I'm tired of getting up in the morning for the school run. Or maybe it's just because it's time to take a break and go on leave. Insha'allah, by the time this is published, I will be enjoying cooler climes with some rain, I hope, on the British island of Jersey, my second home. But whatever the reason, my grumpiness has certainly been more evident recently than usual.

But is there is really nothing I can do about things that irritate me? Apart from the heat, that is, which I will concede is beyond my control. Surely, there are a few areas I can identify in the hope that the authorities can provide some answers or explanations.

Reading the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, I find that among the nine pillars identified as the "architecture of the Emirate's social, political and economic future" is the following: "An optimal, transparent regulatory environment."

Among the four key priority areas for action is: "Optimisation of Government operations." Of course, optimising the functions of government depends entirely on the development of a proper, two-way process of communication between government agencies and the public. So here's some input into that process from my perspective:

The other day, I was driving down a main road in Abu Dhabi, just around the 60 kph speed limit, when a Department of Transport bus came barrelling past on the inside lane at a speed that was considerably in excess of 80 kph. Fortunately, I saw him coming in the rear-view mirror.

Does the Department of Transport have any procedures in place to ensure that drivers don't drive too fast, and are punished if they do? Is there some way of monitoring each bus to help to ensure safe driving habits?

Mawaqif, Abu Dhabi's parking control system, has also long been a bugbear of mine. I welcomed its introduction in principle, and still do. Parking is much easier, during the day at least, in many places that were formerly almost impossible to navigate.

But when a road is wide enough to have paid parking on both sides, or in the middle, while leaving space for fire engines and similar equipment, why not increase the number of spaces?

There is a desperate need for more spaces, as any visit to the Tourist Club area, for example, will demonstrate. And can something, please, be done about the system of residential parking? If anyone wants to visit someone who lives in a Mawaqif-controlled area at night, but lives outside that area and therefore doesn't have a resident's permit, there is no way they can park legally.

Do we really have to take a taxi every time we visit friends? Or should we simply not visit them at all?

In many other areas, pavements are wide enough for new parking spaces to be created without unduly affecting pedestrians. Some pavements are wide enough for some greenery to be planted as well.

A couple of years ago, the Municipality began to cut down trees along side streets, removing the shade that they had provided and creating a barren landscape of concrete and glass. The justification, I heard at the time, was partly to allow additional parking spaces to be created. That certainly hasn't happened on streets that I visit regularly.

Another explanation was that the tree removal would reduce water consumption, although these trees generally grew happily on their own and most city irrigation is done with treated sewage water anyway.

Why can't we have more trees, and not just in the parks, or along the Corniche and central reservations, lovely though many of them are? Why can't we have more greenery in the middle of our urban jungle? If, outside a building, there is a space where tenants or an owner could plant a little garden, couldn't more be done to encourage them to do so?

Outside some shops along Salam Street, the new urban motorway that has eased traffic congestion in the capital, the side roads that once allowed customers to pull up in front of shops, or even park if they were lucky, have been closed off and filled in with gravel. The shops are now separated from the main road by a stretch of pavement and gravel that is at least three or four times wider than it needs to be.

There is no paid parking, which is really needed in the area, and no trees, flowers or benches on which passers-by could sit either. Just an empty area that, in our crowded city, could be put to much better use.

The plan for the Municipality is to optimise operations - surely public feedback is an essential part of that process. If any authorities can help to provide explanations or answers for these questions about public space, I, for one, would be very interested to hear them.


Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE's history and culture