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Next February we are looking forward to the 10th World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, with its theme: “Cities of Opportunities: Connecting Culture and Innovation” and this will be the first time that an Arab country will host the world’s most important conference on cities and human settlements.

At the centre of our discussions will be urban growth management — a comprehensive subject that is at the very essence of the work of WUF10 organisers UN-Habitat. To put clarity around this, urban growth management has become a common term to outline strategies and tools to regulate urban land use in metropolitan areas. It is particularly used to counteract negative impacts of urban sprawl but also to frame future urban development.

Urban Growth Management is particularly essential for Abu Dhabi which is moving up several levels in a rapid manner — and an urban knowledge economy is at the core of the future vision for the emirate as it shifts away from an oil-based economy.

- Mohamed Al Khadar Al Ahmed is general coordinator of the World Urban Forum 10

This subject should not be seen as one which is purely a technical exercise, but an approach that runs deep. Urban Growth Management goes beyond the architects and city planners and relates to how cities are governed, the way that regional government relates to the individual. It can inspire, fostering a sense of civic responsibility and encouraging a flowering of communities.

Deeper still, this process is steering sub-national governance for development, for a process which can promote citizen engagement, foster a sense of civic responsibility and stimulate development. Ultimately, this betters society and can all ultimately improve state-society relations and advance peace-building and state-building goals. Therefore, Urban Growth Management is something truly elevated.

Developing the UAE

Urban Growth Management has particular value in a new and developing nation such as the United Arab Emirates — a shade under 50 years old. Its urban environment and in particular Abu Dhabi, is marked by being fresh and new. It is architects and city planners which have helped to guide a nation, advance its culture and stimulate development.

Urban Growth Management is particularly essential for Abu Dhabi which is moving up several levels in a rapid manner — and an urban knowledge economy is at the core of the future vision for the emirate as it shifts away from an oil-based economy. Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is just one expression of this — as it provides conceptual solutions to shape the growth of Abu Dhabi over the next quarter of a century, addressing the major urban issues of environment, land use, transportation, open space and image of the capital city.

Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 provides plans and policies that shape Abu Dhabi emirate as the leading global 21st century Arab city and includes factors such as sustainability, infrastructure capacity, community planning and a high quality of life for all. The plan is building the foundations for future generations and providing inspiration for the forward-thinking world capital.This strategy has put a great deal of emphasis on sustainable development to preserve and promote Abu Dhabi’s physical, environmental and cultural identity.

The government has identified nine key pillars that form the emirate’s social, political and economic future: a large empowered private sector; a sustainable knowledge-based economy; an optimal, transparent regulatory environment; a continuation of strong and diverse international relationships; the optimisation of the Emirate’s resources; premium education, health care and infrastructure assets; complete international and domestic security; maintaining Abu Dhabi’s values, culture and heritage; and a significant and ongoing contribution to the Federation of the UAE.

Arab urbanism for the future

We have come so far already and we are ready for the next stage. WUF10 will do much to adapt ideas and planning to approaches that are tailored towards the Arab world, its unique features, identity and culture — indeed this is one of the core aims of the forum.

In this region, cities face intense urbanisation challenges and WUF10 provides us with an opportunity to begin visualising the next chapter of sustainable urban development. How we design and manage our growing cities will determine their liveability and vitality. Arab cities must become sustainable while remaining culturally distinct.

At WUF10 we aim to encourage creativity and collaboration as we formulate new approaches and we have drafted a forward-looking agenda that will represent Arab urbanism for the future.

This event will be a catalyst for urban growth management discussion and debate, highlighting the opportunities for dialogue, knowledge sharing, and partnership that lie latent in the community of urban stakeholders of our region. At WUF10, we will demonstrate that Arab cities are experimenting with innovative approaches and conceiving solutions to some of our toughest common challenges.

We look forward to a successful tenth edition of the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi and the outcomes of its dialogue sessions will do a great deal for a developing region, as it moves upwards to a developed stage and the development of cities becomes evermore refined to fit the needs of citizens now and into the future.”

— Mohamed Al Khadar Al Ahmed is the executive director of strategic affairs at the Abu Dhabi Department of Municipalities & Transport and general coordinator of the World Urban Forum 10

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