What's The Deal With Safa Park?

Safa park in Dubai is one of the old parks like Khazzan park and Jumeira. There's been a bit of a hype around it lately because of the canal project. Dubai Water Canal, as they've branded it, introduced a water canal that runs through the park and completed the loop of Dubai's creek by linking its end to the sea. The creek previously terminated at Ras Al Khor, which is currently a wildlife sanctuary consisting of mangroves and the whole ecosystem that they support. The effect this project will have on the sanctuary is to be found out.

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. PHOTO: Mario Guarneros

I'm particularly interested in Safa Park. Some of you who know me know that I'm quite interested in matters of land use and population growth. In fact, I wanted to write my ongoing thesis on a land use planning problem, however that did not materialise so I turned my attention to another problem in this part of the world which is public realm protection.

In a lot of places in the world with strict municipal mechanisms and public integration, dealing with public realm can be a very grueling and a long process. Projects have to be made public and the public gets to participate in deciding the fate of those projects. Some of them never see the light of day and some make it after years of lobbying and negotiation and charrettes and focus groups trying to make everybody happy. In this part of the world, the public is a kind welcoming public, one who believes in the wisdom of the government, they entrust them with the fate of their lives and the lives of their children and their children, and the fate of their cities. The Safa park project was made public in 2012, the canal project, previously called Arabian Canal, was being masterplanned in the quiet as early as 2003.

First, what's the deal with Safa Park? What is happening?

PHOTO: Source and Source

This is how Safa Park looked like before 2014. When I started working at Woods Bagot, the office was a 5-minute walk from Safa Park and I used to park my car under the trees edging it, free parking spaces on the perimeter of the park. A few months in and the trees were getting chopped, orange cones were blocking off the free parking spaces, I used to park in one particular space everyday where the curb on the pavement was slightly bulged because of the tree's roots. That's how old the place was, you don't see curbs bulge because of trees much in Dubai.

The park is (strike that) was 1.2 kilometers long and 600 meters wide. The southern short side is border by Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai's arterial main road, Golden Avenue in marketing lingo. The district it's in is called Al Wasl, adjacent to the Jumeira district which is Dubai's beach ultra posh neighborhood, white villas with tall palm trees is what comes to mind. Around Safa Park, a recent development by Wasl (Wasl Asset Management Group) is Wasl Square, right opposite the park on Wasl Road providing attached townhouses and low-rise residential apartment buildings on top of active retail frontages buffering both Wasl road and Al Hadiqa Street (translating to the Park street, formerly known as Safa street). When the canal project was announced there was a whole lot of infrastructure work to accompany the drastic changes the canal would cause, the Sheikh Zayed Road bridges were what a lot of people who pass by there on their route to work would notice, and the construction pace was unprecedented, they lifted a 75-meter 16-lane highway in months. Another bridge was on Wasl Road which as it went up the retail frontage on Hadeeqa Street suffered a reduction on pedestrian and motorised traffic. According to few shops there that I asked, traffic on their shops went down by 80%, some shops already shut down.

From a commercial point of view one would believe it's a bold project. It will activate water transport in Dubai in a way seen in many great cities where one can get on a boat from Business Bay and cruise down to Deira, retail shops and land value will soar on the banks of the new waterfront, hotels, apartments, villas, new bridges, everybody will benefit. The part of the project my thesis is concerned with is Safa Park, and I think from an academic point of view, everybody won except for one loser which is 'Public Space'.

I could be wrong.