May 27, 2013
In the far distant future, archeologists will pore over photographs such as this one as they attempt to unravel the story of Abu Dhabi. This image of the Etihad Towers under construction barely five years ago will represent what might be called the early 21st-century period of the city.
Abu Dhabi’s history can be divided into several phases. There is pre-oil, when this was little more than a community of a few thousand living in palm frond arish houses.
Then comes what might be termed the “Klondike” period, between 1959 and 1966, when oil saw the town become a city, expanding in chaotic fashion.
Almost all of this was swept away with the accession of Sheikh Zayed, who laid down the foundations of the city as it is today, bringing road grids, running water and the familiar districts. In the 1970s and 1980s, the city grew outwards across the island, with buildings growing ever taller and more numerous.
The 1990s saw a period of consolidation, followed by the current phase of growth which has pushed Abu Dhabi into what are now the suburbs of Khalifa City, Al Reef and Raha Beach. Still to come is the cultural district on Saadiyat island and the city’s metro, all part of the official vision for the year 2030. This is a story with a long way to go.
* James Langton