Waterfronts, the Environment, and Gregor from Slovenia

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Waterfront Conference

Well fed and well hidden in the Yas Island Rotuna Hotel we begin the conference. As conference Chair my job is to make sure the trains run on time, keeping speakers and the program running tight. I am prepared with great questions if the crowd doesn't have anything to add. (Did I mention all while fighting jet lag induced drowsiness?  It's like a waterfront marathon.)

The topics and speakers vary widely and all have something interesting to say. We hear about a mega development in Abu Dhabi -- 120,000 people with canals marina and commercial all built on dredge fill. We hear about great place making in waterfronts around the world. We are wowed hearing about the super cool "Crystal Lagoons" (very very big artificial pools). We hear about building with nature to make great beach fronts. We hear about tiles (the lead sponsor of the event is an emerging Chinese company that produces really nice tiles. All of us day dream about re-doing our kitchens and then applaud politely, grateful that the tile man is underwriting lunch).

The highpoint and the crux of this conference comes with a very intelligent question from a local Abu Dhabian in Keffiyeh to an American planner/architect -- he hears European environmental regulations are so strict that little gets done and it takes a very long time. Here in the UAE lots is done very quickly and often in a huge way. Are European environmental laws too strict or are Arab environmental laws too lax? A political non-answer dances around the question saying you can have it all, great waterfronts and environmental protection. I probably would have said the same. But that response avoids the fundamental economic, political and environmental divergence between our host nation and its brother nations in the region and the West. Generally speaking they have the money, moxi and authority to plow ahead on projects in the waterfront and elsewhere that would not see the light of day in Europe or the US.

Other than the hotel, slim pickens for food on Yas Island -- itself a mega development with a huge amusement park, a formula-one raceway, a marina, 6 hotels and nothing else. Had to settle for a burger form Stars and Bars, an ersatz American food sports bar. Not bad, but definitely not Sharwarma.  Where is McDonalds?

Viceroy Hotel
Viceroy Hotel

Fanciful architecture, everywhere. There is a distinctive round building on Yas Island for a contracting company. The purple building is the Yas Island Viceroy Hotel. Lots of distinctive people too. A "strong man" event is being held nearby.  I am lucky enough to have the international experience of running into guys who look like Gregor from Slovenia in blue pictured with hotel man Muzamill from India.  More tomorrow...

Gregor, Slovenian Strongman
Gregor and Muzamill

-- Roland Lewis

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