By Christopher Sell
The development of 'cities within a city' is taking place within Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
While attention remains fixed on the region's more high-profile projects, it is easy to forget that Dubai is generating a series of carefully organised ‘cities within a city'. These emerging developments are designed to cater for all tenets of daily life, from health and education, to commercial, leisure and residential.
Knowledge Village features a university and secondary education platform, Dubai Maritime City is progressing steadily with its infrastructure work, while Media City is now at full capacity. And Healthcare City, a 1.7 million m
site, has signed partnerships with Harvard Medical International and Moorfields Eye Hospital in a bid to create a medical tourism hub. When complete, it will be the regional centre of excellence for medical services, medical education and life sciences research and development in the Middle East.
More recent announcements have seen these projects looking to link up with the newly created infrastructure in Dubai. Dubai Silicon Oasis is a 7.2km
master-planned community, which is located on Dubai's Emirates Road with easy access to Dubai International Airport, Jebel Ali Port and Dubai's central business district. It is designed to be the world's most comprehensive, microelectronics-based technology park and is the only freezone in Dubai designed as an integrated community.
And International City features nine distinct cultural residences including Russia, England, China, Greece, Italy, Persia, France, Morocco and Spain. It will cover 8 million m
and is located 12 km from Dubai International Airport.
Scott Burbidge, who is a master-planner with Cansult Maunsell, thinks there should be a flexible approach to the development of large-scale projects. "Cities adjust over time and the biggest issue is that things are happening quickly; we are not so sure what is going to happen."
"The important thing now is the planning - the single-purpose marketed cities will need to be fully integrated as places to live, work and play. I understand these focused, master-planned city areas are important in a regional scope to attract world centres, but within those there needs to be flexibility built in."
"If you look at Dubai Marina, it doesn't feel like an open space, there is no adequate parking. The initial buildings are attractive but where are the schools, the mosques and the stores? It is all a little sterile."
Burbidge wishes to see a move towards planning that incorporates the ‘live, work and play' aspects of living. This would then ensure that forthcoming developments do not become isolated and one-dimensional. But at the same time, he warns that they do take time to mature and it is important not to lose sight of what is being developed. "I understand you want to attract people, but you cannot create Paris overnight. When the smoke clears, are the developments an attractive place to work and easy to get to? Can you raise a family there? Can you park a car?"
Paul DeVylder, regional director, KEO Consultants, is the project manager for Mohammed Bin Zayed City - a new development approximately the size of Manhattan - which will be built in Abu Dhabi. And he is adamant that success comes down to good planning.
"The vitality of a city comes from good planning that delivers open spaces and good land-use. This means putting residential and retail where it belongs. This then allows the architecture to evolve; you then get a fabric," he says.
"If you have the right plan and allow architects to get involved, then you will have a good formula."
He adds that within the development, KEO has employed the approach of designing specific land-uses, which are developed as one entity according to the masterplan. The towers will be the responsibility of each owner, for example, but have to adhere to guidelines governing height and size.
Close attention is also paid to the location of the land-use, ensuring that retail, for example, is focused in specific areas and not scattered throughout the development.
"By grouping things closer together you can create more open space. It will be more cosmopolitan and you have places to walk. Dubai is difficult to walk in; Abu Dhabi is much more walkable, but there is too much traffic and the retail is scattered."
The new city will be spread over three sites with a built-up area of 5 million m
incorporating 267 towers. The development, which has an estimated cost of US $4 billion (AED14.6 billion), will support a population of 300,000 and is going to take at least five years to build. Other issues DeVylder is considering during the planning is creating ‘view corridors' and implementing open shop-fronts, diagonal parking and creating a souk-like atmosphere to establish a sense of character. He adds that the construction will be phased to prevent ‘chequered' development.
Transport and infrastructure is another key aspect of master-planning. Recently the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in Dubai appointed Parsons Brinckerhoff to develop a masterplan for land surrounding the Dubai Metro. The RTA has earmarked 16 potential sites for ‘community' developments in key areas that will form part of the Red and Green lines.
Parsons will use the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) concept to carry out a detailed study into developing the sites for mixed use communities. "The metro is an opportunity to leverage the site itself - provided it's master-planned and developed in the most appropriate manner. This could help to fund the cost of the metro project," says Amer Khan, business development associate (manager, transport and urban planning - Middle East), Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Burbidge adds that in US cities, rapid transit links often become the natural point of attraction for development and that TOD planning is expected.
Dubai has come a long way in a short space of time, and with the advent of the master-planned city, the luxury living advocated by developers in the region may have more some substance to back it up. "We are not creating architectural monuments, we are creating places for people to interact and participate in life," Burbidge concludes.