Not long ago I described my hometown in Virginia, where humble wooden houses were replaced with giant McMansions. In that same town, there was an old woman who sold ice-cream out of a tiny little house on the outskirts of Great Falls. Her name was Thelma. For a few months towards the end of my painful high-school days, Thelma and I smoked cigarettes and drank coffee all day, scooped her famous ice-cream into cones, and prepared dry ham and cheese sandwiches. These days I neither smoke nor eat ham, and Thelma died years ago, but that little shop – like Abu Dhabi’s souqs – was an institution.
Decline of “mom & pops”
However, business shrank as the area became increasingly popular among a wealthy elite. The surrounding shops became bigger and fancier and Thelma’s quaint but ramshackle place faded into oblivion. This trend circulated throughout the United States. “Mom & Pops” have since been replaced with franchises and Walmarts to such an extent that many American towns today are defined by a certain, brown, blue and white sameness. Now it appears that a similar trend is crawling through Abu Dhabi, as the emirate pursues its “Development and Beautification Plan?”
The first sign that Abu Dhabi’s character would be forever altered came five years ago when the central market in the capital was replaced with a high-rise shopping center. With 500 boutique stores to choose from, the high-rise is expected to enter its officialdom at the end of this year or beginning of next, according to the Emirates 24/7 news.
Now markets that are at least thirty years old in Bateen and Mushrif are being beautified too.
The owners were informed in May of the plans and will be duly compensated for any loss incurred during the transition from old souq to modern market, according to 24/7.
“They will also be allowed to lease the new shops on a ‘basis of operation and transfer,'” the paper reported.
While often important to improve aging infrastructure for health and safety, one hopes that not all of Abu Dhabi’s character will morph from colorful musky spice into a glittering urban area that smacks more of Las Vegas than of the Middle East.
Elsewhere in the region, “heritage heroes” who recognize the importance of preserving our culture have saved antiquities from extinction. Will someone in Abu Dhabi do the same?
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image via jemasmith