URBAN SPRAWL: ABU DHABI CONTEXT
GRADUATE PROJECT PAPER, ENVR 101, HARVARD UNIVERSITY EXTENSION SCHOOL
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
From tents to skyscrapers, from dunes to multi-lane asphalt roads and lush landscaped gardens, from desert mirages to larger than life construction projects; numerous such titles can be ascribed to the story of transformation, from a harsh uninhabitable desert into the resplendent city that Abu Dhabi has come to be. Irrespective of the varied forces which brought about this transformation, the ultimate effect has been rapid urbanization that is far from uniform. Such an abnormal growth has had precedents in global history of destabilizing the balance between natural resources and the morphological characteristics of each region 1 . Translated into an urban context, such a destabilizing force stems from the modern-day urban monster called SPRAWL. Mankind, in the last couple of centuries engendered as well as survived the first onslaught of what has come to be known as an “Era of Urbanization” 1. „The current world population of approximately 6 billion is all set to nearly double, before the turn of this century. 95% of this increase is expected to be in urban population. In 1990, 15 % of global population was urban. Today this figure is 50% and by 2025 is expected to rise to 60% „ 1.This explosion in urban population coupled with socio-economical, geopolitical factors, land availability and in -efficient planning principles creates an ideal setting for a city to sprawl hysterically. Abu Dhabi, with a mixed bag of good fortune and wise foresight from its leadership, paved its path circumventing this plethora of urban tribulations. Blessed with an ideal location of a „mono-centric city‟ 1 , Abu Dhabi is all set for its next stage of evolution into a megalopolis with the right balance between old city and new developments. Not that it can be deemed the perfect city the world has ever seen, nor is it prudent to judge the acumen of the future plans yet. However, it is intriguing to study the factors that caused the growth and the story Page 1 of 24
behind how an initially sporadic growth got purposefully streamlined into a prospective „blue-eyed‟ city of the future. This report attempts to discuss such factors alongside the latest & futuristic developments planned for the city. The report also attempts to describe and analyze chronologically, the stages in which the city grew to its present volume and the events or factors that influenced its growth. The word sprawl is used only in an allegorical sense, combined with an effort to show how Abu Dhabi has steadil y ventured away from the modern–day jargon the word „sprawl‟ has come to be. The report does not refute or contradict numerous expert analyses on the negative impacts that the growth of such a city has had at social, ecological, cultural, humanitarian levels; nor does it probe into the political motives for, causes of and effects on the city‟s development. Looking beyond mere portibations of environmental doom, the study aims to gauge the unassailable need for the city to spread into its vicinities, how this spread was (and is being) channelized from a chaotic sprawl into a well managed growth. While seeking out the positive aspects, such analysis will lack a touch of reality, if it totally ignores the negative impacts of the city‟s growth. Hence an attempt is made to include discussions about the load the city‟s growth has imposed on its resources (both natural & otherwise) and the impact it has had on lives of the inhabitants. The study also ventures into suggesting measures to add value to the present path of development.
A logical analysis encompassing the effects of urban growth in the context of Abu Dhabi, calls for an understanding of the phenomenon of sprawl specific to the region and also a study of the physical, geo-political, historic and ecological characteristics of the city itself....
References: 6: Haim Yacobi, Relli Shechter, 2005; “Rethinking Cities in the Middle East: Political Economy,
Planning and the Lived Space”; The Journal of Architecture 10(5): 499-515.
13: Suaad Saleh Al-Harthi, 2008; “An Integrated Approach to Coastal Zone Management of Abu Dhabi Western Region” Referred online on 10th Nov 2009 from URL:
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