DUBAI: A Dubai-based Lebanese expat, who was on a mission to run every single street in the emirate, may have been stopped in her tracks by the stay-home drive amid the COVID-19 outbreak. But she is back on the streets now, revelling in all that the city stands for.
The 49-year-old Yasmine Salaam told Gulf News that she undertook her mission after she was inspired by “Every Single Street”, a project that Rickey Gates, an American ultra runner, launched in San Francisco in the US in 2018.
At the time, Gates famously said, “To walk across a place is to observe and participate in a vast, intricate and complex web of infrastructure. It is to experience the history of that place in a very real and personal way.”
Yasmine, a woman who wears many hats, cannot agree more, especially at a time when coronavirus has overwhelmed the world.
A Pink Marathon runner, golfer, lawyer with a doctorate from Harvard and a single mum of three, she said: “The run, for me, is very significant. It’s a celebration of not only my fitness, but also the energy and diversity of Dubai, a city that I have lived in for 43 years. I want to be role model in this context.”
But to have watched her city pause these past few weeks hurt.
Relieved with the reopening
“Now that the city has reopened, it’s like reclaiming the spirit of Dubai as we know it,” she said. “I see more energy and a healthier lifestyle in people’s attempt to keep fit these days. Everywhere I run, in all the communities – from the gated Springs and Arabian Ranches to the more local Al Rashidiya and Al Warqa, or even the cosmopolitan Al Barsha and Al Mankhool, everyone, except the kids and the elderly of course, is trying to get a breath of fresh air.”
She said her own “every single street” project in Dubai required a level of comfort and intimate knowledge of the place, which only someone with a long association with the city could undertake.
“Most expat athletes of today are not comfortable running through areas like Satwa or Al Quoz because they say they feel intimidated. But that’s not the case with me. I have known Dubai over the decades and seen it grow; I can feel the changes in the neighbourhoods I’ve known even as new communities keep coming up,” she said.
Yasmine said her run ensures that she is on a journey of constant learning. “Time was when people would identify Satwa with Iranians or later the Filipinos. But that is no longer true. There’s a mix of nationalities and a mingling of people from different backgrounds everywhere. The contrast is striking.”
The run for me is very significant. It’s a celebration of not only my fitness, but also the energy and diversity of Dubai, a city that I have lived in for 43 years.
She said she considers herself an ambassador of the city, portraying its diversity whether it is the worker accommodations, camel farms and desert streets or the beautiful boulevards , iconic buildings and smart communities of modern times.
Ask her how many streets she will be covering, and pat comes the reply. “That’s the thing about Dubai. It’s impossible to keep count. Just when you think you’ve covered an area, you realise there’s something new that has come up. Some streets have houses and some houses don’t have streets. But that’s how an evolving landscape is.”
No highways, private roads
Yasmine said she does not run through highways or private roads. “I go by the Citystrides map and have covered around 40 per cent of what there is at the moment. I cover one street at a time and never repeat a street.”
Yasmine, who runs alone, said her run requires a lot of preparation, else she would end up repeating streets. She said she takes a selfie on every street for her own records.
“There are community maps everywhere and I take a selfie against them or the road signs in different areas, whether it’s in Al Warsan, Mushrif, Jumeriah Park or Jebel Ali,” she said.
Yasmine said she usually sets out at sunrise and runs between 4am and 8am, depending on the route. “I do an average of around 10km a day, five times a week. There could be a hiatus when summer reaches its peak. Sometimes, the distance I cover could go up to 30km.”
For example, streets fronting coastal areas and close to the Gulf were given names of fish, marine features, boats etc, whereas streets that criss-cross the desert landscape were given names drawn from that landscape. Streets within the business districts were given names associated with heritage, culture and history.
Nothing illustrates this better than the most recent case of the Happiness Street and Al Mustaqbal Street being renamed in Dubai. The street, which stretches across the Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai International Finance Centre, Emirates Towers and Burj Khalifa district, was renamed as Al Mustaqbal Street as the name would reflect the role of these buildings in shaping and building the future.
Similarly, the stretch extending from Al Safa Street North to Al Enjaz Street South, which is dotted by an array of tourist and recreational facilities including City Walk and Coca-Cola Arena was renamed Happiness Street.
In 2016, Dubai named its first smart street in Dubai Silicon Oasis in line with Dubai’s 2020 vision to be a smart city. A digital signage offers real-time news and information display and also internet access across a 300-metre radius. This smart solution also has a CCTV solution to make sure the area is under surveillance at all times. It also has sensors that can monitor temperature, humidity and air quality.