The once-barren western end of Dubai is witnessing a massive growth with mega projects rising out of the sand at every turn.
But, along a stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road, a new community is being built that its developers promise will offer something never seen before in this part of the Gulf.
In a society seemingly hooked on cars, Downtown Jebel Ali will give visitors, residents and workers an appealing alternative – a fully integrated public transport system.
Downtown Jebel Ali is an 11-kilometre and $13 billion (Dh48bn) ‘urban’ corridor which developer Limitless says has been designed with vast tracts of open and green space from the earliest stages of its planning. And the ability to get around without a car was close to the top of the agenda.
“We like to ensure we have communities which are pedestrian-friendly, so people can enjoy walking and reduce the use of vehicles,” said Burton Mangharam, senior development manager of the project.
To help residents get around the community without getting into their vehicles, Limitless is looking at environmentally friendly people-movers, which may take the form of green buses, trams or other types of technology.
People will be able to arrive on Dubai Metro and travel around the vast development using environment-friendly public transport. Downtown Jebel Ali was the first project to be announced by Limitless, the global master development arm of Dubai World, and remains its flagship scheme.
Ground-breaking took place a year ago and its first commercial tenants are due to relocate there in the near future.
When completed in 2012, Downtown Jebel Ali will accommodate 200,000 residents and workers. But unlike previous urban developments in the UAE, it will include up to one-quarter green and open spaces with dozens of parks and four giant, iconic plazas.
For people hooked on their cars, Downtown Jebel Ali will have four interchanges with Sheikh Zayed Road. But there will also be four Metro stations linked to four plazas, each the hub of one quarter of the development, which will give people quick and easy access to other parts of the emirate.
Two plazas are in the design stage, but will comply with the American sustainability standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (Leed).
The first, Central Plaza One, is being designed by Raphael Vinoly and will be shaped in the form of an iconic cube. Central Plaza Two is being designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli, designers of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Each of the four zones will have three areas – an urban district, a ‘trellis’ or arcade and a madina – which will be mainly residential, pedestrian and retail.
“These are the elements we will be promoting both in Downtown Jebel Ali and globally,” said Mangharam, adding: “We are going global in a strategic way. The vision of our chief executive, Saeed Ahmed Saeed, is to enhance people’s lives, and ecology is one of the most important aspects.
“This will be one of the most attractive community developments in the UAE,” Mangharam said.
“With the inclusion of open spaces and the construction of plazas, Downtown Jebel Ali also opens itself up as a recreational destination,” he said.
“The intention is to create a cool, relaxing refuge. Even the plazas will be detailed and people will flock to them on evenings and at weekends. There will be shows and events, conferences, and even orchestras performing.
“We want to make it as lively and attractive as possible for people who want to enjoy open landscapes. There will be a distinctive range of places from ground to high-rise urban environment, gridiron shaped streets to meandering walkways,” he said.
Limitless hopes to have the delivery of infrastructure and servicing of the land completed by next year. In total, there will be 326 buildings of which 237 will be residential. As of now 90 per cent has been sold.
In addition to its environment-friendly planning, at its heart Downtown Jebel Ali is a 200-hectare corridor of residential, office and retail space. And Mangharam said planners hope it will eventually act as the entry into Dubai city from the west. “It is located in the heart of new Dubai, next to Sheikh Zayed Road and Dubai Techno Park. It will be the gateway to Dubai and the new airport and become the circulation hub of the western end of Dubai.”
The planning for the project began in 2005 and the first stages are already being completed and are visible from Sheikh Zayed Road opposite the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza) and next to its new two-tower headquarters.
The commercial buildings, which are four 12-storey towers linked together, are now being fitted out. Behind these offices, and across what will be a 250-metre avenue, is a mixed-use development designed by Pei Partnership Architects, which is run by the two sons of Leoh Ming Pei who designed the glass pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris, France.
“The strategic location will be both important to residents and businesses,” said Mangharam.
“Essentially, we are going to be part of a new urban centre for a diverse and fast growing city. Some of the urban initiatives will be, if you like, the more pertinent things to the heart of Limitless. You have open spaces, plazas, rights of way, as well as roads,” continued Mangharam.
“Limitless promotes developments that are sustainable and ecologically balanced.”
Start as you mean to go on
Sadek Owainati, Chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council, which was set up last year to boost sustainability in urban developments, said Downtown Jebel Ali sounded very positive. “If the company says this is what they are going to do with regard to green and open spaces from the beginning, then it is excellent.
“It is a concept that has to be done at the beginning. If urban developers decide at the planning stage what green spaces they will have, the access to buildings and the transport then this is all part and parcel of sustainability.
“The region as a whole is going through a construction boom and real estate is the prime motivator of the economy and you have to look at the environment in an integrated manner.”
Downtown Jebel Ali transport gets the green signal