I rent an apartment overlooking the city, the ocean and Lulu Island, a large ‘oasis’ park. My apartment is about ten years old – high ceilings, two bedrooms, a maid’s room, three toilets, tiled floors, Villaroy and Boch bathroom fittings, green doors and bright blue window frames. (Almost all the apartment towers here are designed by engineers with no input from architects or interior designers!) I live on the 14th floor.
I have a choice of three supermarkets within a five minute walk. I usually shop at the closest one, which is also the most upmarket. It has a very wide range of groceries from around the world, including almost everything I would get at a supermarket in Adelaide. It does miss out on Vegemite and Twisties, but makes up for this by stocking mangosteens, camel milk, many varieties of dates, and lots else besides. The weather here is always extreme ñ extremely hot in summer, extremely pleasant now. Winter temperatures are not cold, just nicely warm. No need for coats or even jackets. No rain to worry about either!
The easy living in winter helps to make up for the brutal conditions in summer. The decree establishing the Urban Planning Council and its powers was handed down last September. As well as setting the strategic vision for all spatial development of the emirate, we will:
- establish planning policies, regulations and guidelines
- give or withhold planning approval for major developments (and any others we want to ‘call in’ from the municipalities)
- regulate the timing of development (to avoid flooding the market)
- audit approval processes of any other body involved in giving development approvals.
This makes us, theoretically at least, the most powerful spatial planning agency that I know of in the world.
The UPC has a consultant budget for the period September 2007 to December 2009 of over $25m, and an intention to start over fifty-five projects in that time. These range from strategic plans for large districts of the city, through design guidelines for new urban areas, development regulations for the entire city, redesign of two of the major roads, to vastly improve pedestrian conditions and general amenity.
We recently had a week-long charrette with an international team of planners and designers, this time to design Al Ain, a city of 300,000 people with the incredibly low density of less than one household per hectare. Led by the loquacious and ever-energetic Larry Beasley, formerly head of planning at the City of Vancouver, the charrette produced an excellent vision for Al Ain, including largely avoiding more sprawl and instead creating greater density in the existing city area. The charrette was immediately followed by our first Urban Design Review Panel, a team of five international experts to review eight of the biggest projects here. The smallest project is the population size and $ value of the redevelopment of the Adelaide port area, the largest for several hundred thousand people.
For those interested in more detail, see www.pricetags.ca/pricetags/pricetags98.pdf. This edition of the urbanism emag from Vancouver reproduces a talk Larry Beasley gave recently on his work in Abu Dhabi. It gives a background to what I am doing here.