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Can the UAE make its master-planned developments more ‘livable’?

by James Morgan on Oct 7, 2017

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The concept of livability has become increasingly important to the Middle East’s development sector during recent years.

As the region continues to push ahead with master-planned communities built from single blueprints, the necessity to implement design elements that make life both convenient and sustainable for the projects’ residents has come to the fore.

While progress has been made in this respect, livability continues to pose a challenge for master-planners. Last week, Dr Khaled Galal Ahmed, associate professor of architectural and urban design at United Arab Emirates University’s (UAEU) College of Engineering, released a research paper that outlined the challenges of creating community-driven and sustainable neighbourhoods in the Emirates (page 12).

Dr Ahmed explained that, despite attempts to move away from traditional neighbourhood templates, local planners are still omitting features that are essential to the creation of community-driven social housing. He noted that considerations such as sustainability, connectivity, flexibility, and community participation are vital in the development of livable communities.

The research paper identified several characteristics that are hampering the delivery of community-driven developments, including inadequately compact housing density; services and facilities that are too far from residences to allow for walking or cycling; and a dearth of innovation in the way that houses are designed.

Characteristically undeterred by such obstacles, the UAE announced its intention to develop an enormous residential development in Dubai, which it says has “taken into account the aspects of urban sustainability and the creation of a healthy environment” for its residents (page 16).

Last week, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, approved plans to build 763ha of citizens’ housing in Umm Nahd-3. According to Dubai Municipality (DM), which will plan the project, the community is in keeping with governmental efforts to provide housing that positively reflects on Emiratis’ social and economic stability, and enhances their contribution to nation building and development.

Eng Dawoud Al Hajiri, DM’s assistant director general for planning and engineering, elaborated: “The new area takes into account everything that works to achieve prosperity and stability for citizens. It includes provision for the needs of the population [through] public services, such as schools and public parks, in addition to various commercial services.”

Designing master-planned neighbourhoods that can accommodate thousands of families without compromising on livability will no doubt continue to challenge regional developers but, in the UAE at least, significant brainpower is being invested into not only building tomorrow’s communities, but also ensuring that they are fit for purpose.