Dubai: A 52-year-old Lebanese resident, who set out on an ambitious mission to run every single street of Dubai four years ago, is not only finding herself chasing an ever-increasing target, but also chronicling the city’s dynamic transformation like no other.
In June 2020, Yasmine Salaam, who had resumed her run after being interrupted by COVID-19 restrictions, had told Gulf News she had completed 40 per cent of her itinerary drawn from Citystrides, a global website that factors GPS data and plots it on an up-to-date map. Today, the map tells Yasmine that she has covered 78.8 per cent of Dubai’s streets. But she knows better than that.
“New roads keep coming up all the time, so I have to keep returning to the same neighbourhoods. I have found out through the pandemic and the global economic slowdown that Dubai’s development has continued to be vigorous and dynamic. This is because of the excellent leadership, an impressive road infrastructure, smart city and urban planning and a state-of-the-art programme that has made Dubai the model to emulate,” she said.
No doubt, when Yasmine started out, she was inspired by US-based ultrarunner Rickey Gates’ “Every Single Street” project. But as the single mum of three, who is also an avid golfer and a Harvard-educated doctorate holder, said, “There are probably 50,000 runners in 100 countries who are also attempting to run #everysinglestreet of their cities and towns, and that averages at least a dozen per every large city in the world.”
Now with Yasmine, who is perhaps the only individual self-designated for this challenge in Dubai, the uniqueness stems from different reasons.
Long-time Dubai resident
“First of all, I am a passionate endurance runner and a curious one, my running is fueled by my appetite for discovery. Second, I grew up in Dubai and have been here for 45 years of my life. So I am very attached to this emirate. I have covered the historical parts and the newly built areas attract my quest to better understand the Dubai formula and the secret of its success,” she said.
Third and more important, Yasmine said, “I am connected to the human element of Dubai, all nationalities included. I therefore feel comfortable running in any neighbourhood. I also feel safe and courageous to run in predominantly male inhabited neighbourhoods because the level of police safety is high in Dubai.”
Kaleidoscope of discoveries
Yasmine is very impressed with her kaleidoscope of discoveries.
“I am fortunate enough to understand things that I have seen so far because my academics and specialisation in regional studies allows me to analyse the raw material I pick up as I move along. But most of all, my literary side and my artistic inclination have given me the means to appreciate the cultures I run through, the poetry of people’s lives and the beauty of natural, architectural and urban landscapes. My passion for Dubai and running meet in this project that is uniquely suitable to me,” she said.
Currently covering the streets of Expo City, Yasmine said she has been witness to many new communities becoming microcosms of their own.
“When I was doing neighbourhoods like Nakheel 1,000 Villas for instance, I could literally see this happening as homes filled up and parks and supermarkets popped up. I have also been witness to Dubai becoming an entrepot city with big distribution centres and warehouses spawning bustling communities of their own in areas like Dubai Investment Park, Jebel Ali, Al Quoz or Al Qusais industrial area.
"To me, the sight of the heavy vehicular traffic, the loading and unloading of commercial goods or just the presence of huge inhabited labour accommodations in these areas are strong indicators of Dubai’s economy being robust,” she said.
Yasmine wishes there was a time lapse to record what her eyes have seen. “I really do considering how rapidly and vastly some of the neighbourhoods change. And it’s not just in frontier communities like Damac Hills or newer areas like Meydan, Dubai Harbour or Dubai Pearl. Look at how even areas in the old districts have transformed - Deira Creek, Deira Corniche, Al Wasl Road, or for that matter Al Satwa and its gentrification? Why, even Al Khawaneej has changed so much over the past two years that I have to keep going back.”
That new roads keep getting added is no exaggeration. Presently, the Roads and Transport Authority of Dubai is adding 34.4km of internal road networks within three residential districts namely Al Quoz 2, Nad Al Sheba 2 and Al Barsha South 3. And just this Sunday, the authority announced another round of additions – 37km of new internal roads in four more residential areas namely Margham, Lahbab, Al Lesaily and Hatta.
When the map keeps getting reclaibrated
Tell Yasmine about it and pat comes the reply: “Thank you very much.”
But she is not complaining. In fact, she loves the way her map keeps getting recalibrated.
“In other cities of the world, say London or New York, there is a finite number of streets that runners have to contend with. But here, I have to keep pace with the constant additions as Dubai expands. Sometimes, I feel like I am running into the future. Now, isn’t that a wonderful thing?”
The run routine
Yasmine Salaam undertook her mission to run every single street of Dubai after she was inspired by “Every Single Street”, a project that Rickey Gates, an American ultrarunner, launched in San Francisco in the US in 2018.
She runs alone and charts her course drawn from Citystrides. She usually sets out at sunrise and runs between 4am and 8am, depending on the route. She does an average of around 10km a day, five times a week. There could be a break during hot summer breaks, but there are also days when she does up to 30km.
According to Citystrides, she has currently covered 78.8 per cent of the streets in Dubai.
Yasmine takes a selfie on every street she runs for her own record.
She steers clear of highways and private roads. While covering different areas, she also makes it a point to take the Metro wherever possible.