urban history, city and urban planning, urban studies

Planning Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi’s urban development path contrasts sharply with its exuberant neighbour, Dubai.

Alamira Reem Bani Hashim
07 Nov 2018

Abu Dhabi’s urban development path contrasts sharply with its exuberant neighbour, Dubai. As Alamira Reem puts it, Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates since 1971, ‘has been quietly devising its own plans … to manifest its role and stature as a capital city’.


As a native Abu Dhabian and urban planner and researcher, who has studied emirate’s development for more than a decade, is uniquely placed to write its urban history. Following the introduction and description of Abu Dhabi’s early modern history, she focuses on three distinct periods dating from the discovery of oil in 1960, and coinciding with periods in power of the three rulers since then: Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1960–1966), Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (1966–2004), and Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2004–). Based on archival research, key interviews and spatial mapping, she analyses the different approaches of each ruler to development; investigates the role of planning consultants, architects, developers, construction companies and government agencies; examines the emergence of comprehensive development plans and the policies underlying them; and assesses the effects of these many and varied influences on Abu Dhabi’s development. She concludes that, while much still needs to be done, Abu Dhabi’s progress towards becoming a global, sustainable city provides lessons for cities elsewhere.


Alamira Reem Bani Hashim has a PhD in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley. The first Emirati woman to be awarded a PhD in Planning, she is a professional planner and researcher.


  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments 
  • Chapter 1: The Construction of an Urban Past 
    • The Scope of the Book 
    • Existing Literature and Contribution 
    • Structure of the Book 
  • Chapter 2: From the Hinterland to the Coast: Origins of an Urban Identity (1761–1960)
    • Early Settlement 
    • Tribes in the Sheikhdom 
    • The Traditional Economy   
    • Increasing British Interests   
  • Chapter 3: Maintaining the Status Quo (1960–1966) 
    • Shakhbut’s Abu Dhabi:  A Bedouin Town 
    • The Foundations of Modern Governance 
    • Plans of the Experts: An Oil Export Station
    • Arish Village  
    • New Era, New Man
  • Chapter 4: The Emergence of a Modern City (1966–2004) 
    • Sheikh Zayed’s Abu Dhabi: Green, Modern, and for the People 
    • New Government 
    • Plans of the Experts: Human City, Modern City 
    • The Modern City Built Twice Over  
    • Son of a Bedouin, Father of a Nation 
  • Chapter 5: Building the Global, Sustainable Arab Capital City (2004–2016)
    • Sheikh Khalifa’s New Vision for Abu Dhabi and the Sharing of Responsibilities with Sheikh Mohammed 
    • Abu Dhabi’s New Economy and Government Restructuring
    • Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: The Smooth-Flowing Human Eco-City 
    • Abu Dhabi Metropolitan  
    • Towards Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 
  • Chapter 6: Conclusion 
    • A Lesson in Planning
  • Appendix A: Methodology 
  • Appendix B: Interview List 
  • Appendix C: Al Nahyan Family Tree
  • Appendix D: Abu Dhabi Areas Map 
  • Appendix E: New and Upcoming Developments (2004–present) 
  • References
  • Index