SUSTAINABLE URBAN SPACE

Abu Dhabi 2019 | URBAN PLANNING, REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Falah Al Ahbabi, Chairman of Department of Urban Planning and Municipalities (DPM), on coordinating joint-investment programs and strategic alliances with the private sector and integrating technology within developments and services.

Falah Al Ahbabi
BIOGRAPHY
Falah Al Ahbabi is Director General of the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC). He is also Chairman of the Infrastructure Committee in the Executive Council; the Higher Corporation for Specialized Economic Zones – ZonesCorp; the Al Reem Island Infrastructure Committee; and the Abu Dhabi Mosque Development Committee. He is also a board member of the Abu Dhabi General Services Company (Musanada); Abu Dhabi Housing Authority (ADHA); the Centre for Waste Management in Abu Dhabi; the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC); and Etihad Rail, as well as Committee Member, Infrastructure and Environmental Committee at the Executive Council. He has a degree in management from California State University.

How does the newly established Investment Office at DPM seek to advance the strategic urban priorities of Abu Dhabi?

In close collaboration with the Department of Economic Development (DED), DPM recently established its own investment office to coordinate joint-investment programs and strategic alliances with the private sector. This decision helps reinforce and expand our international partners' network and offer attractive opportunities to key local players. The underlying strategy consists of securing an efficient and reliable framework to guarantee returns on investment, whether that comes through establishing commercially sustainable PPPs, maximizing government assets, or attracting international investments to the Abu Dhabi market. Investors will thus be supported through analyses of local-scale economic data to make timely and better-informed decisions when deploying capital in Abu Dhabi. Moreover, to meet the objectives of the Abu Dhabi Plan and ensure the highest level of delivery capability, DPM recently launched two tailored tools designed to attract and drive sustainable investments: the “partner with us" mobile application and the “Abu Dhabi's Investment Guide to Private Partnerships." Both platforms provide investors with greater transparency via our regulatory framework for PPPs.

What are the main challenges in developing a sustainable urban space capable of enriching individuals both socially and culturally, as well as protecting cultural assets?

In Abu Dhabi, our heritage and culture have helped guide us over the decades with the determination to fuse tradition with modernity in a distinctive way, while safeguarding our customs and heritage. The cultural heritage and present context enrich our Emirate with a unique character and counterbalances some of the negative aspects of globalization, such as homogenization. The Emirate's cultural assets stimulate innovations that spring from our unique geographical setting, cultural history, and identity. Preserving the status of cultural capital and diversity remains a crucial asset for Abu Dhabi, and it protects the resilience and interlinkages of social systems within the natural environment. DPM's role is to reinforce and raise awareness of Abu Dhabi's long-standing commitment to sustainable development principles. Our signature statement “Abu Dhabi's Commitment towards Sustainable Urban Development" illustrates a clear vision that encompasses and interlinks environmental, social, economic, and cultural aspects.

What role do sustainability and energy savings play in the current and future construction projects in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi?

In 2008, our wise leadership recognized that the only way to firmly ingrain sustainability principles was by developing a system tailored to our regional challenges. One of the many ways Abu Dhabi has become more sustainable is via the Estidama Pearl Rating System (PRS) established in 2011. It is a set of homegrown sustainability rating components tailored to the Arabian Gulf's unique climate and culture. As the first regional initiative of its kind and scope, PRS is considered the best-practice benchmark for urban development in the MENA region. PRS has significantly improved standards within the built environment, utilizing principles for resource reduction, particularly in energy and water consumption. PRS attracted strong interest worldwide and will start to be applied in several countries in the region.

What are the major working points that require cooperation with both private stakeholders and the Department of Transport (DOT)?

DPM works closely with DOT on a wide range of issues, from the strategic long-term planning of the city and its transport networks to detail project level planning and designs. An interesting example is the development of the new metro, where DPM and DOT worked together to optimize land use and peripheral developments, while ensuring our planning regulations allow the best density to support the project and make it a success. Cooperation with the private sector has been key to the strategic development of Abu Dhabi, providing high-quality infrastructure for new businesses to operate and grow. With this in mind, DPM works closely with government entities such as DED to forecast future growth and integrate data within our development plans. DPM also liaises with developers to ensure their projects are aligned with market assumptions.

How do you seek to boost further integration across the less urbanized areas of the Emirate such as Al Dhafra and Al Ain?

Where there was rapid growth, there are now measured, meticulous, and sustainable processes to correspond to the Emirate's expansion. Thus, sustainable urban development continues to be a core foundation of the stability paradigm developed in Abu Dhabi. The successful emergence of Abu Dhabi over the last 40 years predominantly focused on the capital's urban development, though this is now spreading to the wider Emirate. The aim is to weave together the entire Emirate's urban fabric with Al Ain and Al Dhafra into well-connected neighborhoods. We treat all regions of Abu Dhabi, including Al Dhafra and Al Ain, with equal importance while considering their own specificities. We are also ensuring all rural areas are well connected to each other and to the wide range of municipal services available in larger towns. To mobilize this commitment, DPM created the Complete Sustainable Communities (CSC) initiative, a key component in our strategic drive toward sustainable urban development and realization of Abu Dhabi Plan. Cities are currently becoming instrumental economic hubs that contribute to our overall nation's growth and wealth. Therefore, each of our development projects is intrinsically linked to the DPM's strategic and comprehensive analysis of future transformative changes, conducted in close collaboration with each of the three municipalities. Through the UAE centennial 2071 Plan led by our government, we share a long-term vision which integrates factors such as the evolution of our Emirate's demography, its energy and space needs, the environment, and social composition. It is all about gearing our mindset toward sustainable responsibility as an opportunity prompted by societal challenges instead of corporate obligations.

How does Abu Dhabi seek to integrate technology within its developments and services?

The full cycle of transactions in Abu Dhabi, from planning and development to community and business services, are being fully integrated as part of the DPM's digital transformation movement. This initiative was accelerated with the merger of the three municipalities under the DPM umbrella and enables us to implement an effective strategy towards the development of digital services across the Emirate. With the municipalities, we have embarked on a digital transformation program designed to accelerate the delivery of smart service outcomes and provide tailored digital services to the community. A robust digital architecture has been designed to drive all of DPM's systems acquisition, planning, and developing programs. Eventually, we want Abu Dhabi to be recognized as one of the leading smart and digital cities worldwide.