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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Neighbourhood Watch: A Silicon Oasis of calm in bustling Dubai

Set up as a tech hub in 2004, this thriving area has become a hot spot for students and families 

Dubai Silicon Oasis has grown far beyond its initial business roots in recent years. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Dubai Silicon Oasis has grown far beyond its initial business roots in recent years. Chris Whiteoak / The National

It is far from business as usual at a thriving Dubai district which has swiftly become an oasis of calm for families and students alike.

Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) was set up in 2004 as a centre for technology and is home to more than 1,000 ­forward-thinking companies.

Although it would be easy to imagine the area being austere and uninviting, there is a chance to mix business and pleasure here.

A community feel has been fostered in recent years, thanks to an influx of families taking advantage of cheaper homes plus a large cohort of students who live and learn here.

Quiet, green and serene, it was home to merely a handful of amenities a few years back, but now has shopping arcades, community centres and a variety of restaurants and cafes.

Much of the student vibe was created by the opening of a university residence serving those studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the neighbouring Dubai International Academic City.

Nasser Rizvi lived in Dubai Silicon Oasis over the past four years, watching the area ­develop and grow.

“Now there are more commercial developments, which wasn’t the case when I moved to the area in 2012,” he said.

“There were just a few places to shop and eat at in those days.

“In 2012, grocery shopping was limited to a few shops. As the years went by, the area developed very well and I really enjoyed living there. I moved only because I wanted to live close to my office.

“DSO has become popular because of its central location, as all parts of Dubai are accessible with just a 20-25 minute drive. The DSO free zone has developed well in the past years and a lot of people working here prefer to live in the neighbourhood.”

Amna Yusuf, owner of Cake Away in Dubai Silicon Oasis, said the rise in the student population has been a welcome boost for business. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Amna Yusuf, owner of Cake Away in Dubai Silicon Oasis, said the rise in the student population has been a welcome boost for business. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Amna Yusuf, 25, is enjoying success in the neighbourhood after opening the Cake Away bakery with her husband, Bilal Khan, 26, and his sister Ayesha Khan, 22.

“We find a mixed crowd coming in. We have seen an influx of students since the universities opened,” Ms Yusuf said.

“We don’t need to leave Silicon Oasis for anything – food, laundry or any service. The only thing the area doesn’t have is a mall. It’s our own little world. We only need to leave when we need to go shopping or to the cinema.”

The entrepreneurs said they were embraced by the ­burgeoning community.

“The response is better than we expected. It’s going really well and we hope it grows,” Ms Yusuf said. “We deliver to dormitories and universities. The increased student population has helped.”

Mr Khan used to come to the area to visit friends years before he set up home and business here.

“At the time, there were two or three restaurants and a few buildings, that’s it. But in the past three or four years we have noticed that DSO has developed,” he said. “We were once students in the UAE and we know they need some nice places to relax. This inspired us to open Cake Away.”

Ana Siddiqui, from India, lived in Dubai Silicon Oasis from November 2015 and left the area recently.

She said the advantages of DSO for residents included the upmarket community feel.

“I feel that there are more restaurants and more places to hang out at now,” she said.

“There has been landscaping carried out and the area has been made more green.

“It feels beautified and there is a huge pond around which people walk and run.”

Ms Siddiqui believes Silicon Oasis has grown more popular with time and there is a range of good apartments available.

However, she believes more can still be done to make residents feel more at home.

A thriving community is continuing to grow in Dubai Silicon Oasis. Chris Whiteoak / The National
A thriving community is continuing to grow in Dubai Silicon Oasis. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“There are few schools, no hospitals and very few medical centres. Traffic has also increased.”

Akhil Chauhan, area manager at Filli Cafe in Silicon Oasis, said the surge in student numbers helped to boost his business.

“A few years ago, when this area was still developing, we could see potential in the locality. We know it’s a university area and we felt we could do well here,” Mr Chauhan said.

Students happily sit in the restaurant until the early hours of the morning, sipping on saffron tea while completing group projects or reading up for their classes the next day.

“People like the area because it is calm and serene and well organised.”

Jeevan Sunar, operations manager at The Monk restaurant, said the area was still developing in 2014 when the venue opened its doors.

“Luckily DSO became a hub and it’s very busy now.

“The charm of the area lies in the serenity and the fact that it is away from the hustle and bustle,” Mr Sunar said.