|(Photo credit: Frank Kehren)|
Hot on the heels of the news Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority is to commence a mega-project to name some 22,000 of the city's streets comes Abu Dhabi's pledge to do the very same thing. The two cities have long had a street numbering system in place, but now we're going to get real road names.
As eny fule no, navigation in the Gulf has traditionally been a matter of using landmarks. I recall with delight the early days of my life tramping around the region and discovering I was to spend my day looking for 'the red office building to the right of French Corner, just down Talateen Street from the big Pepsi hoarding' and similar locations. I spent many a joyous hour in Riyadh's insane traffic (back then, they'd shove you from behind into a roundabout if you hesitated in joining the choking stream), perplexed and deeply lost. This is also, incidentally, frequently how I pass my time in Abu Dhabi, the words 'don't worry, it's really easy to find' instantly plunging icy shards of horror into my soul.
Those popular landmarks were to lend their names to roundabouts and roads, areas even. So Dubai, for instance, gained 'Bank Street', 'Budgie Roundabout', 'Chicago Beach', 'Fish Roundabout' and the like. Sharjah got 'Mothercat', 'Flying Saucer' and - of course - 'National Paints'.
Now they're all going to be renamed. Sharjah already renamed all its roundabouts as squares years ago, to the perplexity of many. And it already has street names, each more impenetrable than the last. This has also been the case in Riyadh, where long-standing roads such as 'Pepsi Cola' and 'Airport' have been renamed with dignitaries' full names. The joy of finding out you actually wanted Abdulaziz bin Sultan bin Abdulrahman Al Saud street when you finally made your way to Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman bin Sultan Al Saud street was always a marvel to behold.
And so, I fear, it will be in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The usual pandering will take place and we'll start with Prominent People With Long Names. Then great historical figures - the usual astrologers, mathematicians, travellers (hands up who wants to live in Ibn Battuta Street, then?) and transmuters of lead to gold. Then they'll get desperate and start using desert animals and the like. If I know Dubai, there'll be an auction to let companies sponsor a street name.
I can't keep up. I'm already having issues remembering what I'm supposed to call the Emirates Road these days, let alone Diyafah street and, of course, remembering it's now the Al Fahidi Cultural Neighbourhood. Like many others, I suspect, I'll likely keep directing people using the Emarat before Satwa Bus Station rather than whatever new name gets slapped on the street our office building is on.
Why they don't use the 'popular' names, I'll never know. Although I always thought 'Budgie Roundabout' disrespectful - especially with the descriptor popularly appended...