Delivering Dubai’s Waterfront masterplan
Bachelor of Arts (Planning), 1996
Graduate Diploma of Regional and Urban Planning, 1996
Acting Chief Executive Officer, City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters
Dubai’s Waterfront Project is one of the most recognisable landmarks of the United Arab Emirates city. Master planning for this ambitious engineering and planning project elevated the waterfront development to a property icon world-wide, and UniSA alumnus Carlos Buzzetti played an integral role in its success. Appointed as the highly sought-after Principal Planner for the Dubai Waterfront Project, he was responsible for the delivery of the overall masterplan for what was, at the time, the world’s largest waterfront and man-made development.
After the global financial crisis (GFC) hit in 2008, Carlos returned to Adelaide and was appointed the General Manager, Urban Planning & Environment at the City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters, where he is currently the Acting Chief Executive Officer.
Carlos shares what it was like working on the Waterfront Project in Dubai, how the GFC affected the city, and how he sees Adelaide transforming in the future.
Please describe your position as the Principal Planner for the Dubai Waterfront Project, including how you found the role and any challenges you faced.
Doing business in Dubai, was extremely fast-paced and dynamic. The governance arrangements and level of authority required to progress developments was surprisingly detailed and there were lots of checks and balances in place. Doing business in Dubai required me to understand different cultures and local customs, and ensure all stakeholders were kept well informed about the progress on projects.
Master planning for a new waterfront community had lots of challenges. Building man-made palm islands presented a range of environmental challenges. Nakheel, the developer, had a strong coastal monitoring and sediment replacement program in place to address these concerns, as well as progressing interesting initiatives such as constructing artificial reefs for local marine life.
The provision of social infrastructure within the waterfront development was also an interesting challenge, as the development had to cater for the religious and social needs of locals as well as westerners.
The biggest master planning challenge was where to place ‘back of house’ hard infrastructure, such as electricity sub-stations, waste transfer and disposal facilities and the like. As the waterfront was being developed in stages and land values were so high at the time, the location of ‘back of house’ infrastructure kept being shifted to ‘the next stage’ so I had to work closely with project managers to ensure those facilities were evenly and appropriately located across the entire development.
I would definitely consider moving back to Dubai if the right opportunity came up. My family really enjoyed living there. The local people were really warm and welcoming and it is a great place for families.
How did the GFC impact Dubai’s rapid urban development?
The GFC hit Dubai very hard and very fast. The office I worked in, which housed several hundred staff, closed within two years of my arrival and it has been a very slow burn since 2008 for developments in Dubai. I understand that more recent developments have been significantly scaled back in size and have a strong focus on the tourist market, which makes sense, given the climate for much of the year is very attractive to visitors from western Europe.
Please briefly describe your journey from studying at UniSA to where you are now?
I really enjoyed the lecturing approach at UniSA, as it challenged my mindset and was undertaken within a practical setting. To this day, I fondly recall participating in mock planning appeals and field visits to study urban design and environmental management. UniSA was also very proactive in connecting students with potential employers, which assisted me to obtain my first urban planning related employment. Twenty years later, I am proudly involved in a mentoring program that is jointly delivered through UniSA and the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA), which assists students coming through the urban planning degree to navigate their way into the industry, with support and guidance from mentors.
Career-wise, I commenced employment at the City of Burnside in 1996 and spent just under three years working as an Urban Planner. I subsequently joined the City of Holdfast Bay in 1998 and spent five wonderful years working in the seaside community, two years as a Senior Urban Planner and three as Manager, Development Assessment.
In 2007, I had a desire to expand my horizon beyond Adelaide and I was lucky enough to be appointed as Principal Planner for the Dubai Waterfront Project, which initially aimed to house 400,000 new residents.
In late 2008, I returned to Adelaide, just after the GFC hit with full effect and was lucky enough to be offered employment again at the City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters and General Manager, Urban Planning & Environment.
What is your prediction for how Adelaide will evolve in the near future?
I think Adelaide is experiencing massive transformation right now. Heavy investment in public infrastructure and public realm improvements as well as policy reform in a range of areas has positively transformed the CBD more over the past five years more than I can ever recall. I think Adelaide CBD will continue to thrive as more and more people choose to live in the city but I also think the biggest transformation will be apartment living in the inner and middle suburbs. If we get the scale and form of this right, it could set Adelaide up for decades to come and underpin thriving local economies. In many ways it could be a return to village type living where people will access goods and services from local communities and perhaps move away from big box shopping. Investment in the proposed tram network will also dramatically change the face of Adelaide.
How do you envisage the City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters transforming?
As demographics change and infill developments continue to change the face of inner and middle metropolitan Adelaide, we will see a greater mix of older people and young people living within our community, which means we have to adapt the way in which we do business and provide services to the community. I envisage more community hubs that provide a more diverse range of services and programs for a broad section of our community – many or most of which will be digitally based. I also believe new infrastructure will be delivered with a stronger focus on treating water quality before it enters our creeks.
Connectivity through the city will also be a strong focus and we will see a comprehensive city wide cycling network implemented over the next five to ten years. With creative and home-based businesses continuing to grow, this may influence and grow our night time economy as well, which will change the way we deliver programs and services. I would love to see more people out and about enjoying life in the public realm, where people can connect with each other.
Have you worked on any major projects in South Australia, if so which are your favourites?
In South Australia, I worked at Holdfast Bay Council when the Holdfast Shores development was taking shape in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s so it was great to be involved in the planning and development of public realm improvements along the coast.
My favourite project was leading the master planning of James Coke Park, a small, but much loved reserve, behind the Norwood Mall on The Parade. The implementation of the master plan has seen the park come alive and in spring and summer — full of locals and visitors having lunch, using the playground or just having a quiet snooze under a tree. As an urban planner, seeing underutilised spaces develop into living places is inspiring.
What is your advice for recent graduates, or in hindsight what is your advice to your younger self?
Work on your communication skills and capacity to build relationships AND … network, network, network. It’s simple advice but as an employer, I look for people who have excellent communication skills who are dynamic and confident and show a keen interest in the industry. I am also a true believer in the importance of networking so that prospective employers know who you are. Be persistent but respectful because if you aren’t, the next graduate will be.
As for my younger self, I honestly wouldn’t change much at all. I have been blessed with a great career so far in an area I’m passionate about.