Aljada - Sharjah's first smart city
Aljada, a major development from property developer Arada, promises to become one of the first private sector smart cities in the region
Aljada, a major new project from Arada, is set to become one of the UAE’s first smart cities, and one of the first that is driven by the private sector.
Launched in September 2017 by His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, the 24 million square foot development has been designed to benefit all members of its community, with attention to enhancing the lives of residents in a sustainable and equitable way.
The mixed-use development is located towards the north-east side of Sharjah, near to Sharjah International Airport and the American University of Sharjah (AUS). It will include 10,000 residential units, around 500,000 square metres of office space, four hotels, a hospital, clinics, mosques and a Central Hub, which will provide entertainment and leisure facilities. When complete, by the end of 2025, Aljada will be home to around 40,000 residents and 20,000 workers.
Although there are plenty of large-scale real estate projects in the UAE, Aljada stands out as one of the few commercial developments which includes a comprehensive smart city plan as well. The project includes smart and sustainable features for operations, along with a range of digital services and features that will be available to residents.
Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, CEO of Arada, said that the decision to make Aljada a smart city was based on several factors: “Urban planners are becoming ever more aware that all of the many systems and networks that make a city tick rely on technology. The more efficient technology you can employ, the more efficient your city will be. This is the founding principle of Arada’s decision to make Aljada, a new smart city for the UAE and the wider Middle East.
“At the same time, it’s important that urban planners ensure that everyone benefits from these initiatives, and that the technology being employed does not exacerbate inequality.
“At its heart, Arada is an inclusive, forward-looking company. We are not just a bricks-and-mortar developer. We were founded with the intention of creating amazing living experiences for as many people as possible. This is where our smart city strategy at Aljada fits in. The next-generation technologies we will employ in this landmark project will improve quality of life, save money and also support the environment, all at no extra cost to owners, residents, visitors and workers in the city,” he said.
For the residents of Aljada, that living experience will include facilities like the Central Hub entertainment complex, parkland and free, eco-friendly transport within the development, and will also extend to smart parking, flexible ‘circular’ office spaces and a concierge app to connect with smart services.
Aljada has been designed for smart efficiency, and also to make sure all residents benefit from the city's smart features, says Ahmed Alkhoshaibi, CEO of Arada.
Alkhoshaibi explained that the company will provide its own Arada Smart Home technology free of charge in its ‘Misk’ Apartments, a set of low-density residences, which will allow residents to remotely access home functions like security and environment controls. These services will also help residents to track things like energy consumption and the savings made through these smart services.
Arada sees growing demand for smart homes from the UAE market, he added: “Our own research, conducted before the launch of Aljada, showed us that there was clear and consistent interest in the concept of smart homes and smart communities.
“Among the merits that were shared with us included: time saving, better security and safety (especially for children); efficiency; lower costs; the opportunity to customise and the ability to be eco-friendly.
“For Aljada to function as a true city of the future, we need to be able to attract not just the current generation but future generations as well. Smart technology infused through every aspect of Aljada will make residents lives easier, save them money, and boost their wellbeing.”
The smart city elements of Aljada are focused on five key areas - mobility, utilities, telecommunications, the ‘circular economy', and waste management.
Underpinning all of the technology elements of the project will be advanced telecommunications. As a greenfield site, Aljada has the advantage of being able to build the smart technology in from the design up, Alkhoshaibi said. The backbone of the project will be secure 5G digital infrastructure, and Arada is currently speaking to different entities about those infrastructure requirements.
“Once that is in place, we can then focus on the other four key areas that we have earmarked at Aljada: mobility, utilities, the ‘circular economy’ and waste management. So in each of these areas, technology implemented throughout the project will make life more convenient for residents, while saving time and also supporting the environment,” he said.
In the mobility sphere, Aljada will have a Smart Traffic Management System, with central control of traffic signals and sensors. A dedicated ‘Sustainability Lane’ will be available just for private electric vehicles and Aljada’s own eco-friendly shuttle service, which will be available free of charge to residents. Free transport will also connect Aljada’s own student accommodation complex, NEST, to Sharjah University City. The University City is home to AUS, which is also a centre for smart city R&D through its Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park (SRTIP) and PHD programs, Alkhoshaibi pointed out.
The development has also been designed as a suitable environment for walking, with two linear parks which run the length of the city, totalling 4.4k m in length, and ensuring that every resident has green space within easy reach of their home.
“As part of our initial planning for Aljada, we conducted a walkability study, which shows the maximum distance residents can comfortably walk during the summer,” Alkhoshaibi said. “We’ve designed the masterplan to ensure that residents – no matter which cluster they live in inside the community – will have walkable access to public facilities, even during the summer months.”
For smart utilities, the initial plan is to have all of lighting requirements for the Central Hub complex powered by solar solutions, and the developer will look at extending solar power to other parts of the development as well.
Aljada will include a 500,000 square meter Business Park, which will be launched later this year, which will target local firms and multinationals. Along with appeal to large companies, the business space will also offer flexibility for smaller companies and individuals workers with smart leases, that will allow rental of office space, rooms or even single workstations based on real-time occupancy and usage. The move is part of Arada’s plans to support a ‘circular economy’ within the development, to create more sustainable and efficient use of facilities and resources.
Alkhoshaibi explained: “The whole concept of the circular economy comes from a desire to minimise (or recycle) waste while also making the most of resources. When it comes to circular offices, we believe that Aljada’s Business Park will create a new standard in the region when it comes to the smart use of commercial space. By smart leasing office spaces, rooms and even workstation tables based on real-time occupancy data, we believe that we can make local businesses more efficient and save them money at the same time.
“In the waste management space, Arada will implement hi-tech solutions that will enable municipal teams to track waste levels in individual bins and optimise routes for refuse collection vehicles, a measure that will reduce fleet fuel consumption and improve efficiency.
“Sustainability is a major part of our vision; we take this seriously not only because it is good for the environment, but it’s good for business too,” said Alkhoshaibi.
The focal point of the development is the Central Hub, parts of which are due to open in September. The 1.9 million square foot area will include leisure attractions, cinema and sports facilities, including a 90m tall observation tower, retail and F&B space, and open spaces for community events.
The Central Hub has been designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, with a smart design that is a conceptualisation of the first moment a water droplet strikes the earth's surface. The Hub’s elliptical buildings are designed to channel prevailing winds into the central public spaces and courtyards, to provide natural cooling. The Central Hub will include 732,000 square feet of green space, including community park and water features. It will also be planted with many species of trees and plants, irrigated by recovered and recycled water, and protected by tensile canopies which will sustain a microclimate at ground level.
Although the first residents are expected to move into Aljada by the end of this year, Alkhoshaibi said that Arada is retaining a degree of flexibility in its plans, to enable the development to adapt and adopt new technology developments.
“While we have laid out our basic plan for Aljada and the various components of our smart city, we know that technology is changing rapidly, so we have to try and future-proof our approach. There really is no limit to the technologies you can introduce, or how you use the data that you are provided with in order to improve the lives of the people who are spending time in your community,” he said.
“We are currently in talks with technology companies and a number of other partners, and we would certainly welcome input from prospective players in this space who would like to work with us. The key for us, as a developer of future communities, is to be flexible enough to incorporate any of the many changes and innovations that may come into play.”