Walkable Cities
JWE 02 - 25 - 2010

Dubai is a city that was built up from a bare landscape of sand and sea. With a large budget and no existing city layout to constrain the built environment that would rise up into one of the most impressive and modern skylines in the world today, it seems reasonable that the city planning would take full advantage of a clean slate and create a pedestrian friendly cityscape to be enjoyed by inhabitants and tourists alike. Yet, from our experience in Dubai, I found it to be the least walkable city I've experienced to date. Getting from one side of the street to the closest metro station on the other side meant figuring out how to cross 4 lanes of high speed traffic as well as two others that were under construction with no sign of a crosswalk in sight. The solution was to backtrack to an overpass, that took cars over this traffic, and walk along its narrow sidewalk until it took us to the other side of the street and about 50 yards in the wrong direction. A simple task of crossing the street, that in a walkable city, would normally take less than a minute suddenly turned into a 20 minute process. It was like this everywhere in Dubai. The car clearly dominated as the mode of transportation. Individual building landscapes were walkable but there was no connectivity between them. Often streets didn't even have crosswalks or sidewalks. The outcome is that it makes for less of a livable city. If you wanted to get anywhere you needed to have a car or hope that your destination was right next to a metro station (assuming you can get to one on foot). In a landscape of underutilized highrises, where highrise apartment complexes are still going up all the time, and tourism is such a big industry, it doesn't make sense to depend on individual cars to move people throughout the city. It is part of the reason why Dubai is one of the least sustainable cities in the world. When crossing the street requires you to have your own car, in a city that could potentially hold as many people as Dubai could, the misuse of energy and fuel would be terrible for the environment and city. With all of the highrise apartment complexes and tourist attractions it would be benefitial to the city to be able to be navigated on foot. Right now, the city planning is set up to create a downtown where people commute in and out of the city every day for work, but the office buildings are hardly even in use, meaning people aren't even there during the day in the numbers that the city had anticipated. The lack of walkability is like salt in an already present wound on Dubai's sense of community. It also adds to the disconnected, identity-less character that Dubai seems to have. It seems to be much more of a place to be or see than a connected community. There is a lack of connectivity or cohesiveness in the city planning. While the built environment is rich with interesting and well designed places, the design seems to stop at the edges of each building site. This lack of consideration for each building's surroundings creates a disjointed landscape that can only be navigated by car. Masdar city could be considered the opposite in terms of sustainable design and planning. As a result of the UAE being deemed on of the least sustainable countries in the world, Masdar city is an experiment in creating a completely sustainable city. Like Dubai, the small city is being built from scratch. However, unlike Dubai, the goal with Masdar city is to create a completely pedestrian dominated streetscape and walkable community. Each space is strongly influenced by its surroundings. The surroundings are considered in rings of distance. For each place the immediate context includes places and spaces ideal for walking too, the next ring includes more public buildings a short cycle ride away, and the third ring farthest away includes means for long distance travel. If it works it will be much more sustainable than Dubai, and prove that there is no reason why Dubai or any other city across the globe can't design with a sustainable sensability. The small scale, along with strategically planned walking/biking streets, as well as multiple means of mass transit aim to create a city that is completely accessible without the use of a car at all. It is clear with the planned design of Masdar city that connectivity and accessibility were strongly thought out with the pedestrian in mind. As Dubai begins to run into problems stemming from its lack of cohesive planning and sustainable design, it will be interesting to see where Masdar City goes. Hopefully both can be a lesson for future cities in how to design more sustainable and people-friendly cities. Top image: diagram of Masdar City transportation rings

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