Friday, June 1, 2007

Dubai: A Disneyland for Developers

It is difficult to convey the amount of development currently underway in Dubai, since most of us have never seen anything quite like it. I am so glad I came here after Singapore, Hong Kong and China. While I was awed by the scale of development in these places, it is modest compared to what is happening here. Most of us are now familiar with Dubai Marina, which was copied from Vancouver’s Pacific Placeon the north shore of False Creek. In Dubai, the developer dug the creek out of the desert, creating the world’s largest man-made marina, and surrounded it with more than a hundred towers. While some of the buildings are a bit strange by our standards, others are exceptionally well designed by architects from around the world. Elsewhere, dozens of new ‘cities’ are designed to accommodate tens of thousands of people each, often on a freehold basis, which allows purchasers to acquire a resident’s visa with their unit.
They include Festival City, Academic City (but no UniverCity), Health City, and Internet City, Media City and Sports City.
And it’s not just the amount of development; it’s the type of development. While some of Dubai’s projects have already achieved global fame and recognition: eg: the Jumeirah Palms, The World, and the Jumeira Burj, a 7 star hotel designed like a giant sail, there are others that are potentially even more fantastic.
Burj Dubai is currently under construction. Today it is 448 m high, and when finished at the end of 2008, it will be the tallest freestanding structure in the world, at a height of over 700 metres. (By comparison, the new tall buildings in Vancouver will be around 600 feet.) The precise height is somewhat of a secret, since the developer wants to ensure this will be the tallest structure for some time to come in the face of rumoured competition from potential structures in Kuwait and Bahrain.

There’s the Hydropolis Hotel. Currently being fabricated in Germany, this 220 suite hotel will open in 2009, twenty metres under the sea. Each suite will be a glass bubble, (you can sit on the toilet and watch the fish swimming by), and the hotel will include a ballroom, meeting rooms, restaurants, and other amenities reached by a tunnel and train. The starting room rate will be a reported $5,000 a night
The iPad is being planned as a high tech living environment targeted to young urban professionals. Each ‘intelligent’ apartment will feature a variety of electronic gadgets and gizmos, along with iRealty, a real time virtual projection from different locations around the world. So if you want to wake up in Paris, and go to sleep in New York, you’ll be able to do so.

International Chess City is a whole city dedicated to chess. There will be 32 buildings in the shape of a chess board, allowing residents to play 24/7 throughout the year. Chess lovers from around the world will be able to watch the ongoing championship tournaments via interactive electronic screens

Falcon City will include copies of the world’s great landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Grand Pyramid, Taj Mahal, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Of course there will also be accompanying shopping malls, hotels, apartments, and entertainment complexes

Rotating Residence will be just that, a rotating apartment building. It’s not a new idea, of course. The late Vancouver architect Gerald Hamilton was trying to get one built on a Georgia Street property about 20 years ago. He wanted each suite to rotate independently, but I could not figure out how to handle the plumbing! This development will realize Gerald’s dream, with each resident able to control the speed of rotation. I want to come back to see how they do handle the plumbing.
Finally there’s Dubailand, a $70 billion city-within-a-city, to be developed over a 3 billion square foot site. (The model in the presentation centre is over 3200 sq ft.) It is being designed to attract a population of 2.5 million and 15 million visitors a year. It combines hundreds of apartment and office buildings with hotels and the City of Arabia, which will include amongst other things, the largest shopping centre in the world. There will be phenomenal theme park attractions, including the SnowDome, the largest of its kind in the world; a new Universal City and a Tiger Woods Golf attraction. ‘Restless Planet’ will include over 100 animatronic dinosaurs that are currently being designed in Japan. A real Jurassic Park in the desert.
While there are some people who question whether this, and some of the other developments are just too fantastic to ever be completed, based on what I have seen during my brief stay here, I would take a wait and see attitude. In Dubai, everything seems possible. But I do have my own concerns. While gasoline may be cheaper than water, one cannot help but worry about the environmental impact of all these developments. Furthermore, while I’m told the Dubai Strategic Plan does address sustainability, there is little evidence that the local developers are giving this much attention. They certainly do not see the promotion of green features as a marketing advantage, as we do in Vancouver. Surprisingly, despite the amount of sunshine, I did not see any evidence of solar energy during my stay here. Nor did I see windmills or much evidence of water management, even though the supply of water is largely dependent on major desalination projects. Similarly, I saw little attention to recycling or Allah forbid, composting!
However, Metro, a major transit systemis now under construction, and the government intends to increase the number of hybrid taxis. This is certainly a start. As to where it leads, time will tell. The one thing I can say is that if the government and the private sector get behind sustainable development in the same way they have got behind some of the other developments to date, there will be a lot of impressive demonstrations for the rest of the world to watch. Until then, we’ll just have to hope that the pendulum will swing, and the amount of development will not continue at the same pace as it has over the last decade. While I am sure it will slow down, it will not stop. This place seems to have too much going for it!


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