x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The 'power house' village overshadowed by Abu Dhabi's changing skyline

Community Roots: One of the capital's oldest areas, Bur Hoaz has been overshadowed by the rapid development and changing skyline of Abu Dhabi, but for many residents there remains echoes of the community's heyday when it was a prominent and family-friendly area.

A cardboard box collector in the old neighbourhood of Bur Hoaz behind Al Wahda mall in Abu Dhabi.
A cardboard box collector in the old neighbourhood of Bur Hoaz behind Al Wahda mall in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Long before the dawn of the malls Bur Hoaz was known as a prominent and family-friendly community in the emerging capital.

But now it is being put in the shade by the Abu Dhabi it helped to shape.

One of the oldest communities in the city, Bur Hoaz may not appear on maps of today's capital, but the words will be familiar to those who can remember when the city was little more than a collection of homes thinly spread out among expanses of desert.

The neighbourhood, a group of villas partially hidden behind Al Wahda Mall on Defence Road, lies in the heart of the burgeoning city and is slowly disappearing from view with every new development.

Early residents named Bur Hoaz after a power plant in the vicinity, the name developing phonetically from the English "power house".

Hessa Al Romaithi, 25, recalled moving in as a young child. "It was like playing in the middle of the desert. There was nothing," she said.

But many of her family members lived in the area, which for the young Ms Al Romaithi meant plenty of cousins to play with. The experience left her with many happy childhood memories.

However, as she entered her teenage years things started to change. The neighbourhood started growing and people started moving.

"Many people moved to Khalifa City and other areas, so they rented their houses," said Ms Al Romaithi, who is now an international promotions executive.

As happened in many neighbourhoods, with the capital's shifting demographics and the influx of foreign workers, some landlords were tempted to partition their villas in an effort to maximise profits.

As a result, many working bachelors moved in, and the community lost much of its family-friendly feel.

Dalia Sufian, a 27-year-old Palestinian sales manager, moved into one of the partitioned villas with her mother. They stayed only a year and a half.

"It was really awful living there. There were so many suspicious-looking neighbours from a very low class, not to mention our house was very low quality and poorly maintained, " she said. "When it was heavy rain season four years ago, my room let the rain in and it would fall on me. Sometimes cats would even jump from the roof into my room."

Apart from the nearby grocery, which Miss Sufian remembers "always delivered on time", the only other plus to living in the area was the mosque opposite her house. Yet that too proved disappointing.

"Once me and my friend got ready to go there but then my mother scared us. She said the women there were too messy. I was also worried my shoes would get stolen from outside the mosque, considering the quality of the neighbourhood."

Ms Al Romaithi echoed that view, saying the area was no longer safe for children to play outside as she and her cousins once did. She herself does not feel secure.

"I can't wait to move out of here," she said. "It became too congested and there is so much pollution. We used to see a horizon, now we can barely see the sky from all the buildings surrounding us. It's like we are trapped."

Looking around at the buildings enclosing the villas on all sides, it's easy to share her sense of claustrophobia.

Yet it is not all doom and gloom. In a brighter area of Bur Hoaz children still play, run around and socialise. The Emirates Heritage Centre is nearby, providing youngsters with a variety of activities such as football, karate and swimming. The cups and medals that fill its display cupboard are testament to years of bygone achievements.

Elsewhere, a girl rides her scooter, a boy rides his bicycle and a woman walks her dog. Bur Hoaz remains a tiny village, lost amid the metropolis.