2009 marked the pivotal year when more of the planet’s citizens lived in urban rather than rural places. Rapid migration rates and youthful, fertile urban populations; with improving economic circumstances have driven both this urban transition and expansion. Over the last 40 years the number of urbanites in the Arab region has more than quadrupled. This is set to double again over the next 40 years. Abu Dhabi is very lucky, as it sits on proven crude oil reserves worth some $12 trillion, therefore it can potentially build a diverse and sustainable economic future before the oil wells dry up.
In order to create a city able to accommodate massive expansion the Urban Planning Council has created a visionary Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. It sets out the blue-prints for each unique area of the expanding city with their associated economic diversification strategy. Yas Island was one of the first and most prestigious projects, with a sport and leisure focus. The Hermann Tilke designed Yas Marina Circuit first hosted the Formula One in 2009. When visiting Yas you can travel on the world’s fastest rollercoaster at Ferrari World and overlook Yas Mall and Yas Waterpark as they emerge out of the desert sands. The Masdar Initiative is a second project which is beginning to attract worldwide media attention. At the heart of it is Masdar City; a centre for innovation in clean energy. Students learn at Masdar Institute and the public can visit the commercial outlets; both using the personal rapid transit system and experiencing the cooling effect of the modern barjeel or a wind tower.
The third project is perhaps the most accessible and successful one, if the numbers of users is considered. The Corniche is eight kilometres of landscaped multi-use waterfront, giving Abu Dhabi a focal point for tourism along the Arabian Gulf. It includes a cycle path and wide pedestrian pathways; public and family Blue Flag beaches; as well as shops, cafés and restaurants. The wider space at Al Sahil beach is used for temporary exhibitions, including the annual Yasalam festival, National Day celebrations as well as many other promotional events.
What these projects have done very successfully is to inspire. At Yas Marina Circuit you do not have to be a Formula One driver to get onto the track. Up to 800 mostly local cyclists and runners arrive each week for the free Train Yas sessions. During Formula One week entertainment events take place along the Corniche and the race is shown for free on huge screens. Masdar is a talking point, school students who have visited the site have come away with a vision of how a city can aim towards sustainability for the future, even one located in the Arabian Desert.
Global cities should be a place of dreams, ambitions and desires, Abu Dhabi fits this mould and as such, is a city paving the way for a better future.