x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Now listen here - and officials do

Municipality goes on tour to see what residents really want from it.

Residents voiced disapproval over the park at Khaleej Al Arabi and 27th streets at a meeting with the Municipality.
Residents voiced disapproval over the park at Khaleej Al Arabi and 27th streets at a meeting with the Municipality.

ABU DHABI // Umm Mohamed misses Mushrif's old souq.

"For the past five or six years I would walk to the souq," she said. "Now we all have to drive to go to a souq.

"The building was removed because they [the Municipality] said it was old and they will replace it with Al Mushrif Mall. But we want a traditional souq."

Umm Mohamed was one of 30 Emirati women who went to the Mushrif wedding hall recently to put her concerns about her neighbourhood directly to representatives as part of a continuing initiative by the Municipality.

"I hope you don't keep removing and knocking down everything," she said. "We want our heritage to stay. Even designs need to be close to our heritage - the new souq no longer has the essence of the old one.

"We don't want anything complicated, we want simple things."

Others nodded in agreement.

Badreya al Dhaheri, the Municipality's director of community service, insisted all new building designs were chosen according to the best international standards.

That was hardly the point, countered Umm Mohamed: "It was knocked down at Eid last year. It was such bad timing."

But the officials were resolute. The souq was old and had to go.

Another woman expressed dissatisfaction with rubbish collection in the area.

"You see one house is clean, the second might also be clean, but the third isn't, am I right?" she said. "I have six kids, I am old, but every day I find rubbish behind the school here. For three or four days there are no inspections here."

Ms al Dhaheri assured her the issue would be addressed.

"I am glad she feels this responsibility," the director said. "We will co-ordinate with waste management to deal with this issue. We will also have a competition for the prettiest house and the prettiest garden to encourage people to keep their neighbourhood clean."

Another problem, said Naila Bu Shehab, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 25 years, was a lack of places for children to play.

"We came for a purpose," Miss Bu Shehab said. "We want our neighbourhood to be the best. We want a neighbourhood that reflects our needs.

"There is nothing for young children here. I have seen with my own eyes workers sleeping in the park - which is under a bridge.

"Even my 70-year-old grandmother said this to me, and she probably learnt from a matawa [volunteer teacher].

"Cars or trucks can fall from the bridge and everyone would die below. Please think of the park location."

Miss Bu Shehab said the park should also be monitored by security to ensure only residents of the area could access it. Now, she said, it was used by families from across the city.

But Ms al Dhaheri said there had been no other possible site: "We had no choice."

Khawla al Sulaimani, an engineer with the municipality, said three more parks were planned for the area, although she did not specify where.

Unsatisfied, Miss Bu Shehab raised the issue of stray animals, saying there had been several dog attacks.

"People need to control stray animals," she said. "We used to walk in the neighbourhood here, but now we are too scared to. They might have rabies."

Hamda al Qubaisi, 21, complained Mushrif was becoming too busy.

"It is no longer a residential area," Ms al Qubaisi said. "We have to call tow trucks to take cars parked against our driveway, blocking our way. It is not good that students come out of [Al Ain] university and find their cars are gone. There is no parking."

But the officials blamed that on the Mawaqif parking scheme, which is run by the Department of Transport. There was little the Municipality could do, they said.One issue they were happy to tackle was that of single people living in the area. Anyone aware of such a thing, they said, should report them and further action would be taken immediately.

After the meeting, the residents said they were happy to be heard.

"They wouldn't have cared enough to come if they didn't want to make a change," Ms al Qubaisi said. "This is from their overtime."

The plan is to hold similar meetings in a different area every two months.

"When all the issues are addressed, we will move on to another location," said one of the officials.

osalem@thenational.ae