x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Capital's eyesores get a 'big tent' solution

Mobile clean-up effort welcomes complaints and volunteers alike with travelling tent to hear reports of problems.

Workers clean up a plot in Al Muroor. Abu Dhabi Municipality set up a tent to help residents address their problems.
Workers clean up a plot in Al Muroor. Abu Dhabi Municipality set up a tent to help residents address their problems.

ABU DHABI // Farhan Jahangir awoke yesterday morning to the sound of municipal workers cutting down tree branches behind his home in Al Muroor. By the afternoon, he had volunteered to help clean up his neighbourhood as part of a beautification drive launched by the city this week. A main feature of the municipality's plan is a 125-square-metre tent that will travel to different neighbourhoods so people can report problems. It also hopes to attract volunteers for its war against graffiti, wild plants and rubbish.

As curious visitors trickled into the tent on its opening day in Al Muroor yesterday to munch on chocolates, take brochures and learn how to fix up their surroundings, the "Asematy" initiative enlisted its first recruits. Mr Jahangir, 30, offered to help paint over graffiti. "I read about this programme in the newspaper, and I was interested to go visit myself," said Mr Jahangir, who works in sales.

Like some areas in the capital, urban decay has become a problem in Al Muroor. The neighbourhood is dotted with sinkholes, alleyways are strewn with rubbish and villas have been defaced with spray paint. An abandoned six-door Mercedes sits on someone's lawn, covered in branches. "I'm new to this country. This is my third month here from Pakistan, and I wanted to know how can I contribute," Mr Jahangir said. "I've passed this tent a couple of times already and I thought everything's quite nice in this neighbourhood, but we can definitely try to go further to improve things."

Asematy, which means "my capital", was launched on Wednesday, and organised under the patronage of Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, the chairwoman of the UAE General Women's Union. Over the course of a year, the air-conditioned tent will travel to at least 11 neighbourhoods. It will remain in each area for a month and invite residents to speak with municipal employees about local eyesores. In Al Muroor, it is located across the street from Emirates Private School.

Ali, the municipal employee who welcomed Mr Jahangir to the tent yesterday morning, explained that tree trimmers had been hired to clear overgrowth. One of the most common problems, Ali told him, was unauthorised gardening or planting of trees that have, over time, grown so erratically they have started to block street signs or obstruct pedestrians. "For example, maybe someone will say they want to make a garden, so he puts a tree here and here and here, and it looks nice," Ali said, showing Mr Jahangir photos of other unsightly problems such as potholes. "But after some time, this can be damaging."

He added: "In the future, we can have some workshops on how to make a nice garden. We might have some competitions like the most beautiful garden." Gorge, 54, a consultant from Britain, spoke for half an hour with Ali, and suggested a neighbourhood watch programme to discourage vandalism. He said graffiti and littering bothered him the most. "And there's a trailer that's just been dumped, abandoned one and a half years ago, it's just rotting away," he said.

Gorge said he was "delighted" with the campaign. "I think if the programme is put across in the right way, everybody - no matter what their background - will want to help out," he said. "A journey of a thousand kilometres starts with a first step. The municipality's made that first step and now it's time to go forward." Community engagement is one of the main purposes of Asematy, according to Abdullah al Shamsi, the municipality's acting executive director of infrastructure and assets.

"We want the community to understand their role and how important it is to us," he said. "As you know, the city is becoming bigger and bigger, growth is very fast, so if the community is aware of their infrastructure and co-operates with the municipality, we can build trust and improve our quality of life." mkwong@thenational.ae