x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Shifting emphasis from cars to people

Streets will become less about vehicles and more about people now that all new developments must allow for off-street parking, the Urban Planning Council says.

A man attempting to direct traffic outside a nightclub in Abu Dhabi highlights the problems associated with vehicle-oriented urban planning.
A man attempting to direct traffic outside a nightclub in Abu Dhabi highlights the problems associated with vehicle-oriented urban planning.

Streets will become less about vehicles and more about people now that all new developments must allow for off-street parking, the Urban Planning Council says. When the city of Abu Dhabi was planned in the early 1970s, the priorities were basic infrastructure, roads, housing and office space. The city's rapid growth was not anticipated and parking became one of its biggest problems. Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 would drastically change the aesthetics of the city and how it functions.

According to the plan, which was drawn up last year, parking needs to be taken off the city streets and facilities built either underground or above in multi-storey structures. Falah al Ahbabi, general manager of the Urban Planning Council, said regulations introduced about four years ago require that all buildings have parking facilities. However, enforcement was difficult until eight months ago, when the UPC's design review process began.

The review has ensured that no building is approved without providing sufficient parking for its users. Mr al Ahbabi said taking street-level space away from cars and giving it to people will profoundly change how the city is used. "We want the streets, pavements here to be more liveable, more vibrant," he said. All above-ground facilities will be required to be surrounded by retail space, so huge car parks do not become eyesores.

Shahswar al Belushi, project manager at the Urban Land Institute, said dealing with on-street parking in Abu Dhabi was not easy, but was worth taking on. Getting parked cars off the streets will "change the landscape of the city," he said. "If pedestrians can walk around more freely, this is more beautiful. Plus, they can do business quicker." For Mr al Belushi, the issue is as much economic as it is social or environmental. Time wasted stuck in traffic and looking for parking spaces could better be used doing business.

He said parking problems created a city environment that people wanted to leave, not enter. "If there's no parking at a mall, no one will shop there. If there's no parking, or if parking is a major problem throughout an entire city, no one will want to live there," he said. Plan 2030 calls for an extensive public-transit system. Aware that adding thousands of parking spaces - even if they are out of sight - is not going to dissuade anyone from driving, the UPC, through its design review, requires that all new buildings must take the transit plans into account.

Architects are adapting to the new rulings. Riyad Albuhlaiga, an Emirati architect based in Abu Dhabi, has plans for a five- or six-storey car park downtown with green surrounding areas. "The problem is that we have too many cars, not enough parking spaces. The idea is to take these parked cars off the streets and put them inside," he said. "Street parking takes up prime land, and this is insane. These spaces should instead be used for outdoor activities, for eating, for kids, for gardens, cafes and small shops. We should use this space in a way that enhances the social life of the city."

For Charlie Acworth, head of commercial leasing at Aldar, not allowing drivers to park in the space surrounding a building is good for business. People want to live and work in a place they find attractive, he said, and a big building surrounded by a sea of parked cars does not fit the bill. In the plans for the pearl-shaped Aldar headquarters at Al Raha Beach, which is almost complete, parking space for 1,200 vehicles was provided inside the building. The surrounding area has walkways which are shaded by trees.

This is the kind of design, Mr al Belushi says, the kind of thinking that will make the city appealing and efficient. "Abu Dhabi has a lot to lose by not dealing with parking, with not getting it off the streets," he said. "And the city has a tremendous amount to gain by putting it underground." jhume@thenational.ae