x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A fine way to treat an old friend ...

Occupants of buildings in Sharjah deny they have been warned of proposal to knock down their homes.

Fraz Mohsin in his small makeshift living quarters which are to be demolished.
Fraz Mohsin in his small makeshift living quarters which are to be demolished.

SHARJAH // Peeling facades and crumbling masonry bear witness to more than 30 years of merciless heat, overcrowding and frequent neglect, but nevertheless for some the buildings are like old friends and the prospect of wholesale demolition is not entirely welcome.

Dating back to the early 1970s, the maze of narrow one-way streets that is Sharjah's business district has helped the emirate through its economic development. Tens of thousands of people have lived and worked in the cramped and sometimes dingy mix of low- and high-rise buildings. Some have stood the test of time well and been given facelifts and renovations, while others are victims of poor maintenance and overcrowding.

Either way, they stand condemned under plans by the Sharjah Government to demolish large tracts of the area and put up "shiny towers" instead. Although some people argue that the old buildings are what makes Sharjah's city centre a unique urban environment, surrounded by cities witnessing unprecedented growth, the emirate feels it has outgrown the need for them. This summer, it will send in the bulldozers to clear hundreds of buildings at the start of a massive redevelopment project.

The news came as a surprise to residents and businesses in districts marked for redevelopment, who said they knew nothing of the proposal and feared that the logistical challenge of relocating tens of thousands of people could mean chaos and years of delay. "We have not heard a thing regarding this. At least we should have a notice informing us months, even a year in advance," said Mohammed Tareq, a shift manager at Kanoo's, a shipping company which owns its three-storey offices in the Al Marrijah area.

Although the building has problems with its plumbing, and with some of the entrance tiling, he described the prospect of uprooting as "nightmarish". "People who live in the city should be consulted and given choices to where to move to." Praveen Singh, a leather and textile store manager in the 20-year-old Souk al Waqaf was also unaware of the plans. He has worked in the store for over 10 years. "I don't really know what this would mean for business, but where will we all go to when they start?" he said.

Fraz Mohsin, an Indian expatriate who has lived in Sharjah for two years, believes moving could be financially disastrous. "I share a modest one-bedroom shack with four other guys and we all work as helpers in the area locally and save money this way," he sighed. "What do we do I have no idea. I hope it is not true." The Al Hadi building was built in the 1960s, its once-white colour now grey and even dark green in some sections. Like most in the Al Ghuwair district, its decay is accelerating. However, Mohammed Hadi, the owner of the nine-floor structure, is not keen to lose it.

"The buildings are old and I understand the need to redevelop the land and improve the traffic," he said, "but we don't know anything about the proposal and what is in place." There were those, however, who said the redevelopment might be just what the city centre needs. "This way we can really put Sharjah on the map," said Ali Anjam Mohammed, who has lived and worked for 20 years in a three-story building that he owns in the Umm Tarrafa area.

He felt parts of the city needed to be "bulldozed" and rebuilt from scratch. "We have the traffic issue, health and safety and sanitary issues that affect some of these areas seriously." shafez@thenational.ae