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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Neighbourhood Watch: the Corniche park that is a green dream in the desert

Heritage Park is a soothing sanctuary from big city living nestled away in one of the city's most popular spots

The sands of time have been kind to one of Abu Dhabi's most beloved visitor attractions, the Corniche.

Like the UAE itself, it has undergone a remarkable transformation.

For those who have lived in the capital for only a handful of years, it might be hard to believe the tree-lined stretch, decorated with lush green spaces, was once little more than sand and water.

It is a symbol of how a desert landscape has been painted green.

There are a number of parks dotted around the 8km route, but one that is often overlooked is Heritage Park.

The larger and more well-known Family Park is nearby, but it doesn't cast too big a shadow over an amenity with a family feel of its own.

Children gleefully clamber on trees and ride their bikes, families crowd around barbecues and even the security guard comes to pay a visit on his day off.

Mfadi Al Jasser, 37, from Syria, drops by every week with his wife and four children.

He has lived in the UAE capital for twenty years and fondly remembers the "old Abu Dhabi", but he has moved with the times and embraced the change.

In 2002, he said the transformation of the Corniche began in earnest.

“When the ships came they began digging in the sea and removing the sand beneath to build this area,” the office manager of a local trading company said.

Between 2002 and 2003, land was reclaimed from the sea to extend the Corniche.

You will not find this peace and quiet anywhere in the city

Mfadi Al Jasser, park visitor

Al Jasser points to where few of the now non-existent landmarks, demolished to make way for the development, once where.

“Yes, I miss it but my kids wouldn’t have an area to play like they do today.”

His children, aged three to nine, cycle around him, as he reflects on the progress made.

There is ample time for such reflection here and to soak in the serenity during the week, but the park is much busier at the weekend.

If you decide to come to any of the parks during the weakened, park-goers will warn you that you would not "find a spot to stand" he explains.

“We would never come on a weekend. Don’t come. You will not find anywhere to even sand let alone sit,” he said.

Children make the most of their day out at Heritage Park on the Corniche. Reem Mohammed/The National
Children make the most of their day out at Heritage Park on the Corniche. Reem Mohammed/The National

“But we prefer it to the Family Park. It is much less crowded and feels like a “family” park.”

The Heritage Park has a few barbecue pits and shaded seating areas for a private family gathering.

It is also littered with stray cats who have made the park their second home.

Rosalie Davis, 51, from the Philippines, comes to the park almost every week day with her employer’s nine month’s old daughter.

“She loves the cats,” she said. “I don’t come on weekends because it is my day off but I try to come here every day for a few hours. There are a lot of Filipino's here.

“It is less crowded than the Family Park and we live close by,” she said, pointing to one the surrounding towers.

While the park is only around 1 km, with a winding path near a fountain, its green lawns in between the car park and surrounding towers and hotels are a sight to behold.

Roshana Khatun, from Nepal is bent over a mat on the grass massaging her five-month old daughter, Anabia with olive oil.

Her husband, Astakim Marsour, 36 is the park’s security guard.

“I’m off duty now so I brought them here to enjoy the weather and the park,” he said.

“You will not find this peace and quiet anywhere in the city,” he said. “But not on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It gets very crowded.”

In spite of blaring stereos a few paces away, Heritage park is in constant state of serenity on weekdays

“We came here to barbecue,” said Arnold Felizardo, 29, from India

“I live in the city and I find that this is one of the few parks with more barbecue pits,” Alethea Fernandes said.

Soon they will call the rest of the friends and stay in the park till late in the night.

“The park doesn’t close,” she said

While it isn’t London’s Hyde Park or New York’s Central Park, Abu Dhabi has a green space it can be proud of in Heritage Park.

A welcome sanctuary from hectic daily life in a big city, except, perhaps, on weekends.

Updated: January 30, 2019 02:02 PM

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