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Planning Abu Dhabi: From Arish Village to a Global, Sustainable Arab Capital City


The overarching objective of this research project is to explore and document the urban history of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. It is organized as a comparative study of urban planning and design processes in Abu Dhabi during three major periods of the city’s development following the discovery of oil: (1) 1960-1966: Sheikh Shakhbut Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s rule (2) 1966-2004: Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan’s rule; and (3) 2004-2013: Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s rule. The intention of this study is to go beyond a typical historical narrative of sleepy village-turned-metropolis, to compare and contrast the different visions of each ruler and his approach to development; to investigate the role and influence of a complex network of actors, including planning institutions, architects, developers, construction companies and various government agencies; to examine the emergence and use of comprehensive development plans and the policies and values underlying them; as well as to understand the decision-making processes and design philosophies informing urban planning, in relation to the political and economic context of each period. The project is informed through archival research, spatial mapping, and key informant interviews. It attempts to uncover the underlying foundations of the development of Abu Dhabi by situating the city within a theoretical framework that engages the debates and writings of several theorists on globalization, oil economies in the Arab Gulf, urban governance and planning institutions, and urban design.

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