Emirati Researcher Publishes First Urban History Book On Abu Dhabi, The Capital Of The United Arab Emirates

 In the presence of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, and under the patronage and presence of HE Zaki Nusseibeh, Minister of State, Emirati Architect and Urban Planning, Design and Development Specialist, Dr. Alamira Reem Bani Hashim officially launched her book evening on April 16, 2019. Planning Abu Dhabi: An Urban History; is the first urban history book to be published by an Emirati in the English language. It explores and documents the course of Abu Dhabi’s urban planning.

An Abu Dhabi native, Dr. Alamira Reem is the first Emirati woman to be awarded a PhD in urban planning and is considered one of the leading researchers on the urban development of the capital. Having studied the Emirate’s growth for more than a decade, she believes that planning the future of Abu Dhabi’s urban development depends greatly on understanding its past: the origins of the city’s physical form; who the most influential decision-makers were; what urban policies and urban institutions directed growth; and what political, economic, social and environmental factors dictated the course of planning the emirate.  She argues that, “There is a need for more locally rooted architecture and urban environment education to provide a critical local perspective, particularly on its built environment, planning processes and the interplay of various institutions and stakeholders.”

With a large portion of the circulation and dissemination of images, and representations of the city constructed from a journalistic rather than a scholarly point of view, Dr. Alamira Reem’s decision to write this book was inspired by the limited availability of current and timely information on Abu Dhabi – a modern city that, in her view, stands to contribute to the theory and practice of urban planning and design. “There are very few studies that have dealt with the urban environment of Abu Dhabi and no empirical research has really been conducted on the topic.” She explains. “Being a place where citizens are the minority as opposed to the majority, Abu Dhabi presents a case study on how to balance planning for a small indigenous population – and expressing or maintaining their civic identity – while ensuring that the non-national population is accounted for as well. The experience of Abu Dhabi also makes a valuable contribution to the understanding of planning institutions in rapidly urbanizing societies, in that a planning apparatus was set up over the short span of almost fifty years and is challenged by the need to creatively respond to continuous change and expectations for immediate gain.”

Abu Dhabi’s urban development path contrasts sharply with its exuberant neighbor, Dubai. As Dr. Alamira Reem puts it, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates since 1971, “has been quietly devising its own plans to manifest its role and stature as a capital city.” Following the introduction and description of Abu Dhabi’s early modern history, Dr. Reem focuses on three distinct periods dating from the discovery of commercial quantities of oil in 1960 and coinciding with periods in power of the three rulers since then: Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1960–1966), Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1966–2004), and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (since 2004). Based on archival research, key interviews and spatial mapping, she analyses the different approaches of each ruler to development, investigates the role of planning consultants, architects, developers, construction companies and government agencies, examines the emergence of comprehensive development plans and the policies underlying them, and assesses the effects of these many and varied influences on Abu Dhabi’s development. She concludes that, while much still needs to be done, Abu Dhabi’s progress towards becoming a global, sustainable city provides lessons for cities elsewhere.

Through this book, Dr. Alamira Reem aims to advance the field of urban research on Abu Dhabi, by highlighting the role of the players involved in planning the city and defining how the political, administrative and especially the planning institutional mechanisms affected urban space.