x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Residents say Al Ain's past is key to its future

Some praise the emphaisis on the oasis city's unique character, while others urge caution and worry about prices and overcrowding.

Mariam Al Shamsi, nine, watches the fish from her vantage point at the Green Mubazzarah in Al Ain.
Mariam Al Shamsi, nine, watches the fish from her vantage point at the Green Mubazzarah in Al Ain.

AL AIN // Development of Al Ain must be careful and considered, some residents said yesterday, while others expressed concern over the probable expansion of the historic oasis city. The Al Ain 2030 Plan, the blueprint for all development in the city, was unveiled by the Urban Planning Council on Wednesday. It suggests Al Ain is likely to be home to a million people by 2030, compared with the current 374,000.

To cope with the expected influx, the report recommends introducing rail and tram systems, building new housing and business centres and protecting heritage sites and ecologically sensitive areas. Zeina al Qadi, 35, a Sudanese widow who has lived in Al Ain for 23 years, praised the ambition of the UPC's plans. "This endeavour needs to be executed with the utmost precision, care and planning," she said. "If the plan is executed exactly as announced then Al Ain will be a unique city that has moved into the future, yet held on to its heritage and culture at the same time.

However she, like some others, is also worried about the economic impact the developments would have on the average resident. "Rents will go up, which is not good at a time when many are facing financial hardship," she said. "As development begins and prices begin to increase, many people will be put off by Al Ain who otherwise may think of moving here now. "I don't think that a million people will be living in Al Ain in 20 years. If there are incentives above and beyond what Dubai and Abu Dhabi have to offer, then maybe people will come. I feel that Al Ain will become like another metropolitan city.

"More people will bring more crime and crowding and the usual problems found in the commercial capitals of the world. Those attached to Al Ain will stay but many will be fed up with the construction and chaos that all this development will bring." Richard Loewen, 52, a Canadian-born lecturer at UAE University who has lived in Al Ain for eight years, is also cautiously optimistic. "I am glad a plan is in effect as opposed to letting things develop unguided," he said. "The plan to maintain the character of Al Ain and its Emirati appeal is encouraging.

"I am pleased about the preservation of the city's agricultural roots, the maintaining of the restriction on high-rise building, the building of covered walkways to encourage foot traffic and declaring parts of the city as national parks. I agree that there are too many traffic circles. Those should be reduced and we do need more malls, but in the city's peripheries not in the downtown area. "Now the plan to build an indoor ski slope on Jebel Hafeet may be taking things a bit too far. I am concerned about the ecological impact that would have on the mountain."

Ahmad al Za'awai, 28, a member of the Armed Forces, said he opposed the blueprint. "You have Dubai and Abu Dhabi which are commercial capitals, now leave Al Ain alone. Things here are fine just the way they are. "Al Ain is already beginning to become crowded and expatriates are coming to live here more and more, which detracts from the city's Arab feel. I am very concerned about who all this expansion is going to bring to our small city."

Ali al Mogbali, 26, an Emirati employed at the Ministry of Interior, was also critical of the 2030 plan: "The city is already too crowded. This is one of the last bastions of true Emirati culture and it will be lost in all this development. "If the UPC wants to develop the surrounding areas that is fine, but leave central Al Ain exactly as it is." Saeed Mubarak Saeed, 43, a Kenyan security guard at Al Ain National Museum who has lived in the city for three years, also feels that the projected population increase will have a negative impact. The plan predicts there will be 710,000 expatriate residents in Al Ain by 2030, and 290,000 Emirati citizens.

"If you make Al Ain like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, then tourists will not come here because the city will lose its uniqueness," Mr Saeed said. "Increasing the population will definitely have a negative impact on tourism and things will change. When more and more foreigners come to live in Al Ain, its culture will be affected. "Al Ain is full of Arab culture while Dubai is all business." ealghalib@thenational.ae