- What’s Arabic for ‘Charette’? Public Participation in the Baniyas neighborhood of Abu Dhabi   click here to open paper content1389 kb
by    Chakravarty, Surajit & Meera Mansoori, Meera & Meera Shehadeh, Meera | surajitusc@gmail.com   click here to send an email to the auther(s) of this paper
Short Outline
The paper reports findings from the Baniyas Park public participation
project in Abu Dhabi, UAE, conducted by the authors between August 2012 and
May 2013. Recommendations based on the community input received are
presented along with insights regarding substantive and procedural aspects
of participation in contexts such as Abu Dhabi.
In most developed country contexts public participation is a widely
accepted (and often legally-mandated) requirement for the planning process
(Healey, 1992; Innes and Booher, 2004). Participation is not without
criticism - not least the contention that it tends to favor the elite, or
the problem of conducting participation in contemporary megacities etc. In
developing countries, particularly those with strong central control, local
governments are still in the early stages of practicing participation.

In Abu Dhabi, UAE, public agencies have begun holding “workshops” and
“charettes” in the last few years, which are prominently displayed on their
respective websites. But what does participation mean in a non-democratic
planning context? How can it be reconciled within the practices of local
governance in an Islamic state?

This paper reports a participation exercise, conducted by students, under
the aegis of the Abu Dhabi Municipality. The Baniyas community was one of
the earliest planned communities in Abu Dhabi, having been constructed in
the 1960s and 1970s. Parts of this suburban town are now in disrepair, yet
other parts of the community are growing fast, with new villas and blocks
being added every year.

Baniyas Park is the main recreational facility in the neighborhood. Abu
Dhabi Municipality, concerned with the relatively low number of users,
wants to undertake improvements to encourage use. The student-led
participation process involved workshops in various locations of the
Baniyas community, 300 surveys, and in-depth interviews with various key

Conclusions from the Baniyas Park participation project are presented at
two levels. First, we share recommendations for the park, as have emerged
from the participation process. Second, we provide insights regarding
substantive and procedural aspects of participation in Abu Dhabi.
Peculiarities of the local planning culture and the ways in which
meaningful participation can be encouraged within such contexts are

It is found that the government and social institutions are open to
participation, and that participatory planning has a well-defined basis in
Islamic thought. However, important caveats limit the meaning and scope of
participation. For truly understanding and describing the planning
practices in cities like Abu Dhabi, it is important to make space for
planning theory grounded in the local political and cultural environment.


Healey, P. (1992). Planning Through Debate: The Communicative Turn in
Planning Theory. The Town Planning Review, 63(2), 143-162.

Innes, J. and Booher, D.E. (2004). Reframing Public Participation:
Strategies for the 21st Century. Planning Theory and Practice, 5(4), 419-
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