Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Explanation for Dubai's Success

The following, from an online article entitled The Report, offers an insightful postulation on why Dubai has become the supercity it is today:

If Abu Dhabi is the richer emirate, why are we hearing so much about Dubai instead?

Abu Dhabi actually tried to do a lot of things that Dubai is doing now back in the ’70s and early ’80s. But for the most part, it didn’t work, largely because the people of Abu Dhabi are Bedouins, living off the land, raising sheep and such. Dubai, on the other hand, has always been made up of a merchant class. So they understand markets better and have these entrepreneurial roots.

The real turning point for Dubai came in 1996 when, unlike Abu Dhabi, they passed legislation allowing foreign citizens to own property in certain parts of Dubai. This is tremendously different than what Abu Dhabi attempted to do, and also explains why an oil-rich country like Saudi Arabia hasn’t risen to this level of prominence in terms of commerce and trade.

Dubai has focused its efforts on being relatively tolerant of Western ideas and cultures and allowing foreign ownership of land. That was the biggest single step toward what we see today.

Drums please...

Incredible Image

There is an international community of skyscraper enthusiasts who regularly post comments on Skyscrapercity.com. Some of them take it a higher level and create graphic images of the wonderful towers and skylines that catch their fancy.

Needless to say, Dubai and Dubai Marina are favorite threads among such enthusiasts on the Skyscrapercity.com forum. Below is one particularly inspiring image of the Dubai Marina created by the forumer who goes by the handle Malec.

view full-sized image    

About the Image

It depicts in part a real, planned and imagined version of the Dubai Marina. The tall, colorful towers at left are either real or planned (most at present U/C). The smaller shaded buildings across the length of the picture represent mostly structures that already exist. The tall, shadowed images at right are imagined.

The image highlights what is considered a newly revealed possibility for the Marina. That is, that super-tall towers will be spread out across the Marina district, and not only in the area at left--sometimes referred to as the Tallest Block on the Planet.

These imagined towers would presumably come up along the beach front. At right, there is one colored-in tall tower at beach front which has been proposed. This tower is what fuels the suspicion that more such towers could rise up along the beach. Also notice in the background, at right center, a very tall tower, which is the rumored Al Burj, a 200+ story tower expected to be announced soon.

Even More

As liberally as the image depicts the emergence of more super-tall towers, it omits a number of substantial projects already announced. One of these is the Dubai Promenade--a collection of residential, office and hotel towers on a peninsula that sticks out at Marina center.

There is also the soon to be announced complex of three super-talls--a 90 story and two 100 story towers for the tallest block. Furthermore, if the beach front super-tall towers become reality, one can well expect these to come up right in front of the colorful row of towers depicted at left.

Any way one looks at it, the Dubai Marina skyline is already phenomenal and will be even more so in years to come. That, I say, calls for a drum roll...

Friday, April 11, 2008


Dubai's brilliance does not come without cost.
Its lowest paid workers pay the highest price.

As much as one marvels at the success and literal rise of Dubai it is impossible for anyone who lives in or visits the city not to see the multitude of expatriate workers. They far outnumber the local population.

While indeed as a nation and a culture Dubai and the UAE have opened its doors to all who have wanted to come--and most have come to earn higher wages than they would elsewhere--many have felt like anything but honored guests. In fact, it is the ones who ought to be most appreciated for carrying out the most onerous tasks that are the most taken for granted and the least cared for.

These include the construction workers--who perhaps number as many as 1 million or nearly one fifth of the entire resident population. They also include tens of thousands of other manual laborers and domestic workers and large numbers of service workers--people laboring in shops, restaurants, and hotels. So many of those resident in the UAE lead invisible lives as low-paid workers, in stark relief to the affluence rising up all around them. No applause for Dubai here.

Read more: In Support of UAE Laborers, Disgruntled Workers--a 2006 Guardian article.

Central City Skyline

Sheikh Zayed Road and city towers from Interchange 2 flyover.
(Click on images for enlarged view.)

    Late afternoon traffic congestion.

Construction activity at Business Bay with Burj Dubai at left.

    Burj Dubai facade through trees (Safa Park).

Skyline over Safa Park.

    The concrete jungle.

The ultimate skyscraper.

Photos taken 1 March 2008

See more: Dubai Marina Photos

For Starters (Dubai as World Central)

Dubai (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a country) is an incredible city... Well, it is in fact a super city--rather like a large county or a small state.

Geographically it is nearly square in shape and covers an area approximately 60 kilometers squared. (Brown-colored section on map below.)

It has a fast growing population of 1.5 million (including up to 85% expatriates) and is part of a larger metropolitan area including its neighboring emirates, Sharjah and Ajman.

It is one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates--a small country which lies along the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, in the south-east of the Arabian peninsular, with a total population of under 5 million.

That said, it is convenient to think of Dubai as a city-state, similar to Singapore or Hong Kong (when that city was part of British colonial territory).

Dubai was for a time under British protection and one of what were called the Trucial States. It was co-joined to the surrounding political or, more accurately, tribal entities on the basis of a trucial pact.

The seven tribes united in 1971, under the power and guidance of the most influential leader among them, Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi. Indeed, a large part of the legacy of Dubai and other emirates rests with their leaders, who to this day enjoy absolute, feudal-style authority.

Dubai, inasmuch as it has been in union with the six other emirates, is very much master of its own destiny. It was led formerly by Sheikh Rashid (1958-1990), and now his third son, Sheikh Mohammed. ( Dubai's ruling family graphic.)

Today's political leadership:
Dubai's ruler Sh. Mohammed (left) with Abu Dhabi's ruler Sh. Khalifa.

Dubai is presently on a trailblazing path to establish itself as a the world central destination or authority in:
  • trade, transport and logistics
  • commercial aviation
  • resorts and tourism
  • building design, construction and real estate development
  • infrastructure development
  • trade fairs and exhibitions
  • banking and finance
  • trade in gold and other commodities
  • retail merchandising
The list goes on, as does the degree of success Dubai has enjoyed in many of these fields.

Dubai is clearly at the forefront of trade, transport and logistics, which in its modern history includes such milestones as the creation of Port Rashid (a major regional deep-water port) in the 1970's and Jebel Ali Port (the world's largest man-made port) and the Jebel Ali Free (Trade) Zone, both established in the 1980's.

Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road area, 1990

Its modern inroads into regional and international trade reflect a legacy of seafaring trade going back over a century.

Diversification from trade and transport into a variety of other industries accelerated in the 1990's with establishment of various other freezones built upon the success of Jebel Ali.

Newer freezones today include media, publishing and IT sectors and more recently healthcare, humanitarian aid and cultural activities.

Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road area, 2008

While tourism and retail commerce seem to have evolved naturally from the growth of trade and transport activities, the surprise event at the end of the 20th century was the explosion of the real estate and construction industries.

Seemingly overnight, Dubai was transformed from a society where even native citizen's were not allowed to freely buy and sell property to one the world's most dynamic hotspots in this endeavor.

Beginning with a royal edict allowing nationals, foreign residents and even non-residents to purchase property in designated areas, Dubai has become the world's leading site for construction, new building design, real estate, land reclamation, urban infrastructure development...

And the list goes on. Over US$ 1 trillion in construction and infrastructure projects are presently underway or approved for commencement in Dubai and neighboring emirates.

Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road and new Downtown area, 2015

Drums please... Dubai has truly entered onto the world stage and made its presence seen, heard and felt in a big way.

Read more: the UAE