GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Accidental Cities or Cities Envisioned: A Comparative Analysis of Planning in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Initiatives for Sustainable Cities in the Gulf Region
Paper Proposal Text :
This aim of this paper is to ascertain if the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are accidental cities or products of clear, strategic and planned visions. These two case study cities are the two largest cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and two of the most popular global cities in the Middle East. The paper uses the mixed method research strategy, consisting of face-to-face interviews with municipal administrators and planning officials, direct experiential narratives from two of the authors of the paper, and data from various secondary sources, to explore the trajectory of the phenomenal growth and development in each of the case study cities, to understand the processes and process dynamics of the growth and development, and to ascertain if the cities are products of some accidental occurrences or strategic vision. Insights into the concept of accidental cities derive from the works of scholars such as Lang and LeFurgy (2007), Powell (2012) and Fulford (1995). The latter two provided in-depth historical narratives on the Cities of New Orleans, USA and Toronto, Canada, respectively, while Lang and LeFurgy examined accidental cities in the USA from the angle of an urban phenomenon they termed ‘boomburbs.’ Reviewing Powell’s work, Curtis (2012) noted that New Orleans “is a city that thrives at the messy overlaps of geography, time and culture.” This paper is curious if the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai each evolved, like New Orleans, when, according to Curtis, “an improbable city came to be and then survived through its own determination and the flexible social and political structures of its first inhabitants.” New Orleans thus typifies an accidental city, which should have never achieved the status it did, but nevertheless did, due to what Curtis, both paraphrasing and citing Powell, termed “accidents of history plus some cunning in the service of self-interested ambition.” If, on the contrary, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are products of clear and strategic visions (Owens, 2011; Williams and Sharro, 2011), then the interest in this paper is to explore and compare the dynamics and drivers of the planning processes in the two UAE cities. Further to ascertaining whether or not the two case study cities are accidental or envisioned cities, the paper delves into their initiatives to be sustainable cities, especially in light of their unique geo-environmental locations. Using the sustainability pentagon (Kolo, 2010) with the 5-E pillars of Economy, Environment, Equity, Engagement and Enlightenment as the framework for analyzing sustainability issues and initiatives in the two case study cities, the paper attempts to decipher some key current and future sustainability challenges in the two cities. The paper concludes by proffering feasible responsive mechanisms to the challenges in the two cities, and in the Gulf and other cities around the developing world that desire to emulate the urban growth ‘models’ in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Fulford, Robert. 1995. Accidental City: The Transformation of Toronto. Toronto, ONT: Macfarlane, Walter & Ross.

Kolo, Jerr. 2010. Beyond Colors: Sustainability Pentagon as a Proposed Integrative Framework for Sustainable Development Implementation. Edited by Steffan Lehmann, Husam Al Waer and Jamal Al-Qawasmi. Sustainable Architecture and Urban Development, Vol IV. Amman, Jordan, pp. 435-446.

Lang, Robert E. and Jennifer B. LeFurgy. 2007. Boomburbs: The Rise of America's Accidental Cities. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Owens, Michael. 2011. The Planned City: Make No Little Plans. Ed. by Austin Williams and
Alastair Donald. The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs. London: PlutoPress, pp.77-97.

Williams, Austin and Karl Sharro. 2011.The Visionary City: Things Will Endure less Than Us.
Ed. by Austin Williams and Alastair Donald. The Lure of the City: From Slums to Suburbs.
London: PlutoPress, pp.161-182.