Where the streets have no names (and the bus is free)

Abu Dhabi: 68° F / 20° C and sunny


Navigating around the city has been an incredible discovery.  Walking around without a map, using the sun and the call to prayer as orientation and time-keeping devices, works fairly well around here.  It is an easy city to find your way around in…a grid of superblocks.  One direction takes you to the water and the other, well, it doesn’t.  You are either standing along a major artery (longitudinal roadway) or you are within the confines of a superblock, near slower moving traffic, open space, or parking….or a mosque.

Confusion sets in the moment you begin to try and understand the street signs, sector boundaries, or locate an address.  This is amazing: There are no addresses in Abu Dhabi.  Try to locate an Abu Dhabi business on Google maps.  A zoomed-out image of the states poped up for me.  My friends, who live in a residential tower, here have no mailbox in the building.  Everyone has a PO Box.  Mail is sent to places of employment and then delivered home by other means.  The streets are labeled with names on maps and have street signs but no one uses this often long, newish identification system.  “Sheikh Rashid Bin Saleed Al Maktoum St” is also “2nd St” on maps and street signs.  The locals, they call it Airport Road.  As far as I can tell, most people who live here don’t even know the new naming system exists.  When I arrived, I was instructed to tell the cab driver to take me to a tower behind Marks and Spencer (mall) downtown.  I asked my friends if their tower entrance was located at the intersection of 2 and 7 streets.  Craig: “Are there a bunch of dudes standing around in pajamas?”

People use landmarks to give directions….and this is what you have to do for a taxi cab driver as well.  It’s pretty incredible that it works.

Another incredible thing: the bus is free!  The bus system is free of charge for all of 2009 as an incentive for a (predominantly) car culture to begin using this recently introduced service.  It is clean, crowded, fast, efficient….way more so than the East Bay’s AC transit.  Here in Abu Dhabi the bus arrives every 5 minutes, passengers can enter and exit from every bus door, and no one is standing at the front waiting in line to pay.

See more at: http://archive.gulfnews.com/nation/Traffic_and_Transport/10223758.html

Only in new cities, baby!

The open buses and public space…an interesting topic.  When asked how I would define “public” on this journey, I was pretty convinced that “it’s not public if it’s not free.”  Cafes and bars are hubs of activity and places of major social networking, yet they exclude members of society who can’t afford to be there or are not of age/religion to consume.  Therefore, a library would be a public space, but a bus would not.  Here in the UAE things are flip-floping.  Major parks charge a small admission fee and the buses are free.  People spend a lot of time in hotels, clubs, and shopping malls.  Which public spaces will be the most important to recognize, is it a case-by-case decision I have to make?

Advice is really welcome.


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