By DJ Armin
ZAS/PSE Managing Partner DJ Armin explains why the focus needs to shift from the former to the latter.
There is an urgent need for the UAE to emerge from a migratory lifestyle towards a long term sustainable living model. This premise arises from the fact that the majority of the foreign population that makes up most of the UAE’s demographic, chooses to live in the country only for a temporary period. This has given rise to a ‘transit living’ culture, where a social bond with the land is missing. Recent reports have increasingly been accusing the UAE (Dubai in particular) of growing too fast without fostering a long term sustainable way of life, largely attributed to this migratory living culture.
The transit living culture has extended to the lifestyles of the local population. This leads us to speculate: Is the current UAE lifestyle sustainable? Perhaps not, unless a new living model is embraced; a model that is grounded in strong Arabic family values, characterised by its distinctive social bond and adherence to both traditional and modern values.
How can we engender this new living model? The solution lies in adopting a ‘community living’ culture that creates a sustainable balance between traditional social values and modern living amenities. A community lifestyle is vital in order to strengthen these values and foster a sense of belonging and ownership of the land and its culture.
The UAE will then begin to be perceived as ‘home’ for the long term. The government has set this direction with developments such as Al Barsha, which focus on grass-roots community development based on the traditional way of life. This is also a step towards strengthening community cohesion; a goal set by the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015.
At ZAS/PSE, we have developed a new concept in community living called ‘Hai al Arab’, which seeks to offer solutions that will help sustain communities over generations. The design characteristically integrates modern functionality and living standards and maintains its analogy with the UAE’s natural, religious and socio-cultural environment. It also exemplifies basic elements such as internal courtyards, private areas and public spaces between buildings that are typical to the local culture. The design also offers the flexibility to amalgamate two or more neighbouring plots into a single unit, suitable for larger families, which prefer to live together.
The most striking feature of the design layout is the organisation of the entire development as ‘clusters within clusters’. In other words, it is a ‘nodal community’ development, where a group of villas, when organised around a common amenity such as a mosque, school or park, form a ‘nodal community’.
These central amenities are connected through exclusive green pedestrian networks that allow people to easily walk from one place to another, an inherent feature of traditional Arabic social life. Several such ‘nodal communities’ built around a larger service facility such as a shopping mall or the traditional souks, give rise to a ‘neighbourhood’. A collection of these ‘neighbourhoods’ eventually forms the larger community. At this scale, the diversity and social infrastructure become large enough to offer true sustainability.
Community living is the way forward, if the UAE is to emerge out of its current migratory lifestyle and move towards a long term sustainable living model. Rapid growth non-aligned with sustainability is sure to be short-lived.
But, growth grounded in traditional Arabic community values that offer social, environmental and economic benefits for its people, will see Dubai and the UAE continue its success, by confirming its commitment to sustainable development.
DJ Armin is managing partner of ZAS/PSE, part of the SS Lootah Group and has extensive international experience in managing and designing projects. He holds a Doctorate in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from Sorbonne University, France. He has been involved in managing and designing various projects in the Middle East and UAE since 2004.
The opinions expressed in this column are of the author and not of the publisher.