Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 29 March 2020

Plans unveiled for Abu Dhabi's first 'urban forest'

The Reem Forest project is one of hundreds intended to make the capital more 'liveable'

Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi will be the site of a sprawling forest, part of an ongoing effort to make the capital more 'liveable'. Victor Besa/The National 
Al Reem Island in Abu Dhabi will be the site of a sprawling forest, part of an ongoing effort to make the capital more 'liveable'. Victor Besa/The National 

Plans for the first urban forest in Abu Dhabi have been unveiled, as part of efforts to help residents connect with nature.

The forest, currently being planted in Reem Island, will be a significant departure from the manicured lawns and carefully placed palm trees that currently make up many of the green spaces in Abu Dhabi, designers said.

It is hoped that visitors will experience a self-sustaining wild forest where there will be genuine biodiversity. Local trees that grow naturally in the Emirates will be used in an effort to minimise the need for maintenance.

It is just one of hundreds of developments initiated by a new scheme which aims to change the landscape of Abu Dhabi by placing more natural sites within the city.

Reem Forest [will be] the coolest place in town

Rasmus Astrup

“The path will be cut out of the forest,” Rasmus Astrup, of Copenhagen-based architecture and landscape company SLA, said.

“For people who walk inside there is a forest track – it’s something that is a little inconvenient, a little dangerous, you have to walk on stepping stones in there. We want people to engage as much as possible with the nature.

“Of course, it’s not a forest like where I come from in Denmark. We have snow right now so it’s different. But it will have the feeling you get of being in a forest. There are no lawns, it is a park without any lawns. So it’s very different to what people are used to.

“We’re using only local species. Obviously it’s going to be interesting how people react to it.”

Representatives of the For Abu Dhabi initiative, which was set up by the The Department of Municipalities and Transport and is working on 300 improvement projects across the Emirate, declined to say when the forest would open or where exactly on Reem Island it would be situated.

However, detailed blueprints have been drawn up and the first trees have already been planted, Mr Astrup revealed, at the World Urban Forum conference this week.

“I saw a bird at the construction site yesterday sitting in a gaff tree, so this whole ecosystem is now kickstarted,” he said. “It’s not a lot of different species [of tree] but it will give a feeling of a forest. Basically the framework for the whole park is the nature, which creates shade and a nice microclimate in a very urban environment.

“Al Reem Forest [will be] the coolest place in town, for many reasons.

"If you want biodiversity you need dead trees. All these high stem trees, with lawns, has nothing to do with biodiversity.

“On purpose, we use the strong desert trees on the highest point and the more demanding palm trees on the low points, because water still moves according to the topography.”

The For Abu Dhabi initiative, which had Dh8 billion of funding from the wider Ghadan 21 stimulus package, is working on large and small scale projects across Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Dhafra. They are being designed to make the areas more ‘liveable’.

They include public art projects, street regenerations, four new parks, regeneration of 16 community parks, waterfront improvements and a new cycle network.

Rasmus Astrup, left, of Copenhagen-based architecture, landscape and urban design company SLA, unveiled the plans for an urban forest in Abu Dhabi at the World Urban Forum. Reem Mohammed/The National.
Rasmus Astrup, left, of Copenhagen-based architecture, landscape and urban design company SLA, unveiled the plans for an urban forest in Abu Dhabi at the World Urban Forum. Reem Mohammed / The National

The scheme was welcomed by Andrew Grant, of UK-based landscape architect firm Grant Associates, who has worked on major projects all over the world.

“There has to be a fundamental new way of thinking about landscapes in Abu Dhabi,” he said, after hearing about the forest plans... This is showing how you can make it a more humane, liveable city.

“I think Abu Dhabi has the opportunity, if they go with this in a really fundamental way, to really put a global exemplar out there to show how we can make our cities much more beautiful, nature-filled and attractive to live in.”

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Updated: February 15, 2020 07:49 PM

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