Informal encounters: Mapping Abu Dhabi's urban public spaces

Elsheshtawy, Y.

Elsheshtawy, Y. (2011). Informal encounters: Mapping Abu Dhabi's urban public spaces. Built Environment, 37(1), 92–113.

The paper explores the extent to which inhabitants of Abu Dhabi find ways circumvent official notions of order as it pertains to the use of open public spaces in the city. To that effect, the study focuses on informal modes of urbanity examining and mapping various forms of informal activities that still persist in the city. The study relies on field research carried out in Abu Dhabi's central area, content analysis of media reports, and interviews with officials and city residents. This will be contextualized and situated within the overall urban development Abu Dhabi. These contemporary modes of informal urbanism will be mapped through a survey of the city's public spaces. A series of vignettes offers a portrayal of the diverse ways in which residents have constructed an alternative order. The overall aim is to construct a 'narrative of informality'—a view from below offering a more substantive assessment of people's interaction with, and relation to, the built environment. The paper begins with a theoretical framework aiming at situating the study within the overall discourse known as 'informal urbanism' the study of the everyday which, while prevalent to various degrees within urban theory, has been receiving renewed emphasis. The overall value for mapping activities both at the level of urban theory and for the urban development of Dhabi is discussed in the conclusion.

Main finding
By examining informal social spaces, the author finds that people use streets and leftover space in Abu Dhabi for prayer, socializing, playing sports, gardening, and making art—all despite the city's plan for formal order. These observations showcase a need to physically accommodate the social needs of residents, and the informal urbanism that occurs regardless when cities don't.

Description of method used in the article
The author used content analysis of media reports, observations of informal social sites, photography, and interviews with city officials and residents

Of practical use

Organising categories