x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Where the streets have new names, but lack numbers

Even if the logic of the street numbering system is to be scrapped, there should be a few months, or years, of transition, writes Peter Hellyer

An Abu Dhabi street near Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has been renamed after Saif Ghubash, the former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who was was killed in October 1977 at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Delores Johnbson / The National
An Abu Dhabi street near Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque has been renamed after Saif Ghubash, the former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who was was killed in October 1977 at Abu Dhabi International Airport. Delores Johnbson / The National

I was delighted to read the other day that, thanks to an initiative by the Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, two streets in Abu Dhabi have been named after prominent figures in the UAE’s history who died in the service of the state – former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Saif Ghobash and former UAE Ambassador to France Khalifa Al Mubarak.

The former was killed in October 1977 at Abu Dhabi International Airport, during an attempt to assassinate the Syrian foreign minister, while the latter was murdered by a hit-man in Paris in February 1984. It is right and fitting that they are now commemorated in this way.

The move is part of a wide-ranging programme to give new names to streets throughout the capital, following on from the renaming of broader districts. Major streets are being given the names of prominent individuals of the past and present, while minor streets are being given the names of little-known places throughout the Emirate. If that means that these places become slightly better known, that’s fine, although it would have been helpful if the spellings were a little more recognisable.

I must confess that it’s all rather confusing, particularly where major roads and long-established districts are concerned. It will, I am sure, take some time before the Tourist Club area stops being known as such – I certainly can’t remember the new name offhand – or before most people learn where Sheikh Shakhbut City is – apart, perhaps, from those who live in it. The process is, moreover, made more complicated by the fact that some of the capital’s major roads have nicknames that have never been official but which are, by far, the most commonly used.

Thus “Muroor” is the street on which the Traffic Department is located, while “Airport Road”, officially Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Street, got its name when it was the only road running out of town that led to the old airport, now the Bateen Executive Airport, before Arabian Gulf Street and, later, the Eastern Corniche, or Corniche Al Qurm, were built. “Jawazat” is the road on which the Passports Department was once located, decades ago. What was its old “official” name? I really haven’t a clue.

A decade or so ago, a street numbering system was introduced. It had a clear logic behind it – with Abu Dhabi’s roads being built on a grid system. It was actually quite easy to follow, going from 4th to 6th to 8th, or from 9th to 11th to 13th. I never really became used to it, though. It took me several years before I was able to remember that my office was at the junction of 4th and 15th Streets, rather than “at the junction of Muroor and the road with the Al Ittihad Corporation on it”. It was easy for newcomers, though, and gradually other residents, even traditionalists like myself, were getting used to the idea. It helped, too, that the road signs showed both the name and the number, so you could find your way around using both systems.

Now, though, the street signs show the new names, but not the old street numbers, and certainly not the old names, so there’s nothing to guide you. The similarity of names of leading personalities can be a little confusing too. Thus “Muroor” or 4th Street has become Sultan bin Zayed the First Street, while Salam Street, to the east (and I can’t remember the number of that one) has become Zayed bin Sultan Street.

In time, of course, people will get used to the changes, though I suspect that the old favourites of “Muroor”, “Khalidiya”, “Jawazat” and “Electra” and so on will continue to be used as well, at least by everyone but new arrivals, who will be greeted with blank looks of incomprehension when they ask for directions using the new names.

The new system, though, has none of the logic of the now-redundant system that used street numbers. Was it really necessary to cancel the numbering of the roads? I hate to think of the number of working hours that will be wasted as people try to find their way around, let alone the frayed tempers and raised blood pressure levels that will ­result.

It’s not too late, surely, to ask the authorities to reinsert the numbers on the street signs. At the very least, even if the logic of the street numbering system is to be scrapped, there should be a few months, or years, of transition.

Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture