New book on Abu Dhabi’s public spaces is a ‘push for exploration and discovery’

3 July, 2021

In cooler months, people gather at the weekend to fish along the shoreline under Al Maqta Bridge in Abu Dhabi. They sit on foldable chairs, watching the streetlights splay in the still waters of the inlet to the creek. They chat, smoke shisha and wait for their fishing rods to twitch.

On Friday afternoons, yoga mats unfurl on the grass at Umm Al Emarat Park for a class that is dozens strong. A stone’s throw away, a group of teenagers jeer and cheer as a football rolls between the two backpacks they’ve designated as goal posts.

From 5pm onwards, some car parks across Abu Dhabi double up as cricket stadiums. Matches are held across age groups and friendships are soldered and tested. As one game becomes heated and a child threatens to take his cricket ball and go home, a man sits down on one of the polished boulders behind the Crowne Plaza, uncaps a plastic bowl and eats his dinner.

Every city has its unique way of being affected by its population; of being transformed by it. The most conspicuous markers of these effects can probably be found in a city’s public spaces, and not only its formal ones, such as parks, but its informal ones, such as car parks.

Abu Dhabi Public Spaces examines this, providing an insight into urban life in the capital in a way you’re not likely to find in any travel book dedicated to the emirate. The book was written by a multidisciplinary team of academics, including sociologist Clio Chaveneau, geographer Hadrien Dubucs and architect Apostolos Kyriazis, and was published this year by Motivate Media Group, with the support of Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.

The book is a must-read not only for visitors who want to discover Abu Dhabi beyond its tourist attractions, but also for those who have lived in the city for years and who are familiar with the spaces written about. It is comprehensive, with photographs as well as maps of pedestrian networks and building heights, and it features 14 locations around the city, including the undeveloped Shabiya plot, where cricket and volleyball games are often played, Al Maqta Bridge and Family Park on the Corniche.

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