Accepted Paper:

Abu Dhabi: the promise of an exclusive city  


Laure Assaf (Université Paris Ouest (France))
Clémence Montagne (PARIS IV - PSUAD)

Paper short abstract:

We compare two case-studies (Al-Raha beach and the Corniche) in order to examine the interplay of different scales and actors within the spatial planning of Abu Dhabi, and the way they disregard, reinforce or bypass ethnic segregation in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Paper long abstract:

Gulf cities have become well-known for ambitious public construction projects which shape the cityscape through spectacular architectures. Capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi is no exception, and its "Vision 2030" projects a utopian image of a modern Arab capital embracing global standards of sustainability (Masdar city), connectedness and knowledge-built economy (Saadiyat island).

This paper examines what is at stake behind this "vision" from a geographical and anthropological perspective. Making the future city involves private and public actors whose relationship, in the Gulf, is often ambivalent. Through the analysis of two recent development projects, the Corniche and Al-Raha beach, we compare the ideal city - and citizens - that are designed by government actors to the city actually produced through the conception and execution of these projects by semi-private developers. In turn, these are confronted with the unequal access to, and appropriation of, these public spaces by the residents of Abu Dhabi, in particular along the lines of ethnic belonging.

Although the Corniche and Al-Raha beach are both conceived as leisure spaces, they offer two opposite models. The Corniche is an old public space in Abu Dhabi, and its centrality and accessibility make it a showcase of the social, economic and ethnic diversity of the city, despite constant transformations. Al-Raha beach, on the opposite, is the offspring of the Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: although it argues of being transit friendly, open on the beach and offering all amenities, it is a gated community accessible to residents only, and thus strengthens spatial segregation in Abu Dhabi.

Panel P014
Building promises: how international, state and local actors collaborate on public construction projects in non-democratic environments