By Jola Chudy

It’s a Thursday evening; the girls close their identical apartment doors and step into the warm night air. Making their way across symmetrical stone courtyards flanked by wind towers, they pass high-walled alleys with rows of prettily illuminated palm trees before arriving at another place that from the outside looks exactly like the flats they have just left.

Burj Khalifa and The Address hotel rises above the Old Town. Although the neighbourhood might at first seem identikit, the old-Arabian architectural touches set the tone for a friendly, village-like environment.  Pawan Singh / The National
Burj Khalifa and The Address hotel rises above the Old Town. Although the neighbourhood might at first seem identikit, the old-Arabian architectural touches set the tone for a friendly, village-like environment. Pawan Singh / The National

Inside, the similarities continue. Tasteful beige walls meet understated cream floor tiles; dark wooden fittings punctuate the pale tones. An Arabian lantern forms the centrepiece ceiling light. Same … but different.

As strangely identikit and neatly ordered as Old Town sounds, it has become one of Dubai’s premier residential destinations. And while new developments can sometimes feel sterile or faceless, the Emaar-built Old Town, which, despite its name, dates from just 2005, is anything but.

It’s said that architecture is a powerful influence in shaping a community and, in this neighbourhood, which has been my home for the past year, the buildings form the backdrop to a friendly, safe environment. In this enclosed community smiling at people you pass is as de rigeur as it would be in a small village, and residents seem to have nothing but praise for the place.

Tonight, as Kate Taylor and her friends go out, nobody is worried about flagging down a taxi at the end of the evening; having friends, shopping, cinemas, night clubs and restaurants, the hairdresser and the gym all within easy walking distance means never having to worry about transportation.

The low-rise blocks, with their archway entrances and old-Arabia touches, may have an element of fantasy about them, but the reality is that everything is well thought out and convenient.

Bianca Limatwana, who is originally from Australia, says living here means being able to get by without a vehicle. “I hate having to get into a car just to buy water. Here, I can stroll over to the local salon, there is a Spinneys, a spa and countless places to eat or get takeaway. When we first moved here in 2008, there was less open, but Souk al Bahar now has a range of places to go to.”

She moved into her one-bedroom garden apartment in August 2009. “Since then I’ve been invited in for dinner by several neighbours and am on first-name terms with many more. I have friends in the surrounding apartment towers, have fed the cat of one couple and had my plants watered by another. I’ve also enjoyed being able to step out of the apartment, stroll along the road, pick somewhere on a whim for a coffee or a bite, and then walk back. No taxis.”

Taylor agrees: “It’s one of the few places where you can walk out of your front door and pop in to see a friend over the road; I’ll usually see friends three times a week. I live by myself and if I was living somewhere else, I’d be much more isolated. Here, we can get together at a moment’s notice and hang out.”

On a Friday morning, they convene at one of the communal swimming pools to catch up on gossip over sunbathing and magazines.

The pool area, with its neat sun loungers, well-tended shrubs and tall palm trees, looks as if it has come straight from a glossy hotel brochure. Landscaped courtyards, ornamental pools and tinkling water features dot every corner. The buildings are the colour of warm sand. Quiet walkways border the garden walls of ground-floor apartments, where tall plants peek over and sprays of bougainvillea soften the edges.

Old Town forms part of Downtown Burj Dubai, a vast development between Sheikh Zayed Road and Al Khail Road that is home to the sky-piercing Burj Khalifa. Grabbing at the skirt tails of the Burj is The Address hotel, its distinctive spatula-shaped silhouette a landmark in its own right. Next door is the cavernous retail cathedral of Dubai Mall.

As in other parts of the city, rents are falling, and garden apartments that would have previously been out of reach for many are now affordable. David Matthew moved to Old Town at the start of the year. “Within a couple of minutes’ walk of my front door, there’s Nezesaussi, that shows the football, is open late and does great burgers; an Italian restaurant, Marzano, that delivers top-class pizza; and a small Spinneys that carries all the essentials. These are the little things than make a huge difference.”

In fact, he says, the neighbourhood is one of the city’s great assets.

“It’s got a pool, it’s not in the middle of a building site, there’s parking space and you can always get a cab. It’s just a free gym short of being an ideal place to live, but probably as near as you’re going to find in Dubai.”

What residents say
Kathryn Rogers, UK
If you don’t want to leave the neighbourhood at the weekend you don’t have to. There are pools for lazing around – our cat has even been known to come to the pool to say hello – and friends living a minute away. In the evenings there are fantastic bars and restaurants to get dressed up for if you want to go out. A lot of our friends live here so we socialise at each other’s apartments quite often. I’ve lived here since November 2008 and the location is perfect for my work in Healthcare City, just 20 minutes away.

Christopher Saul, UK
We were among the first to move in October 2007 and experienced some snags but, despite these, Old Town offers pretty much everything you might want and Emaar has really thought about creating a community. We have friends two doors down, another friend across in <saxo:ch value=”194 173″/>Zaafaran 1 and friends in South Ridge and Burj Views, all within walking distance – quite a novelty for Dubai. For people renting today, it is ideal – exactly what attracted a lot of us to Dubai in the first place: new, high-quality apartments, lots to do and reasonable rents. Why live in Silicon Oasis when you can be in the Old Town for a similar price with so much more?

Sven van Loon, Belgium
As an architect, I often think Dubai can be a bit fake, but Old Town works. I like the scale of the buildings and the walkways. I also like the sense of community and that you don’t feel like a number living here. We have some friends here and are on nodding acquaintance with people we see around the pool. We love the walkability of the area – you don’t need a car – another reason we made the decision to move here.

Property prices
One-bedroom apartments start from Dh70,000 per annum; apartments with two or three bedrooms start from Dh130,000. Purchase prices for one-bedroom apartments start just below Dh1 million.

Old Town Nursery, in Qamardeen quarter, is run by Raffles International. For primary grades, the Gems Wellington International School behind the Shangri-La Hotel is a few minutes away by car. Secondary schools within a 15-minute drive include Dubai American Academy in Al Barsha and Dubai College.

Medical facilities
The Dubai Mall Medical Centre opened in September. There are no hospitals, but the Iranian Hospital in Satwa and Emirates Hospital on Al Wasl Road are both within 20 minutes’ drive.

Membership at Hayya Gym at Al Manzil Club, Old Town’s local gym, starts from Dh5,050 per person. Every quarter of Old Town has a communal swimming pool.