Brave new world

For the casual observer it is fascinating to watch how Abu Dhabi and Dubai are tackling the future.
Brave new world
By David Westley
Tue 25 Sep 2007 11:17 AM

For the casual observer it is fascinating to watch how Abu Dhabi and Dubai are tackling the future.

Dubai moves forward at breakneck speed with projects always playing catch up with the city's impressive growth, while Abu Dhabi, the country's capital takes a longer-term, strategic and more measured approach to development.

While Dubai continues to catch the headlines, it is worth more than pausing to appreciate Abu Dhabi's 2030 plan. Its stated goals are interesting less for their housing and transportation projects - impressive though they may be - but more for the attention to its cultural and environmental goals.

The capital of the UAE is truly thinking ecologically. Green belts, desert fingers to keep the dunes connected to the sea, protection of the country's mangrove forests and its birds and wildlife suggest an emirate that wants to balance its desire to be a commercial leader, with one that also respects the balance of nature.

That is truly 22nd century thinking.

And it is not just environmentally where Abu Dhabi is quietly stealing a lead over its regional neighbours. The emirate is addressing a criticism long levelled at Gulf countries in its focus on becoming one of the cultural capitals of the world.

Abu Dhabi has so far eschewed the ambitions for the tallest structures in favour of - for example - a Guggenheim Museum, the establishment of an NYU campus - one of the best universities in the world, and the construction of the Abu Dhabi Louvre museum - all on Saadiyat Island, recently tipped to become on of the world's top 10 destinations by the international travel industry.

For those visitors to these shores who have expressed amazement at what has been built, but have been dismissive of the cultural and artistic achievements of this land, it may soon be worthwhile getting them to take a second look. By 2030 the United Arab Emirates may not only be a leading commercial, tourist and financial centre, but an ecological and cultural one too.

In fact should Abu Dhabi be successful - and there is absolutely no reason why it should not be - it will have helped shift the perceptions of the Gulf from oil rich but intellectually dry, to being one of the truly great centres of the world - flourishing both economically and intellectually.

The 2030 plan could - in short - bring the Arab world back, culturally to the centre of the world. And that will make it a truly great city in which to both work, and play.

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