Patches of Grass Attract Unexpected Users

In Abu Dhabi, medians and 'leftover spaces' are attracting unanticipated users playing soccer, exercising or just hanging out. Planners are grappling with why people use these spaces and the public parks they've designed are less successful.

"Much of the problem with the way Abu Dhabi's parks work is not a matter of bad planning, Egan [Robert Egan, a landscape architect] says, but of design. Though there may be facilities and spaces, the actual real-life flow of individuals often differs from that which is initially envisaged by urban planners.

Around 10 o'clock Sunday night, on 16th Street between Defence Road and Delma Street, the car park connected to Zayed University is full of boys. One solitary car sits on the asphalt, but the boys are so focused on their football game that none notices when the driver walks over and drives it away. Almost 20 pairs of sandals have been kicked off and lie at one side of the lot.

A break in the game comes when a goal is finally scored. The boys pat each other on the back, breathing heavily as they discuss what just happened.

'Why do you play the game here?' I ask one of them. 'Why don't you go to the park so you don't have to run in bare feet on the pavement?' One chubby teenager seems confused. 'A park? There's no parks around here, lady.'"

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