Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Dubai or not Dubai?


Having recently returned from a visit to Dubai, we were saddened but not exactly surprised by news of what is being dubbed the 'Financial Crisis II'. The inability of Dubai World to repay its debts has led to panic and uncertainty, particularly among the many British banks and contractors owed money by companies in the region.

Up until this point, it's been a bit like the Emperor's New Clothes - no-one wanted to be the first to question the sanity of the phenomenal amount of speculative development underway in Dubai, despite the fact that the inadequacies are surely glaringly obvious to visitors and residents alike. Richard Rees, director of Urban Design at BDP, in his presentation 'The Future of the City', asserts that many new Asian and Middle Eastern cities, like Dubai, have taken their lead from what we in the West now deem to be the worst aspects of modern cities.

These new 'high rise' cities have developed into hugely built-up urban spaces which ignore the green issues and 'quality of life' aspects that are increasingly of interest to urban designers and planners in the UK. The result can be pretty unwelcoming: over-reliance on car travel, very few green spaces, no consideration given to pedestrians, even less to cyclists (as if anyone would want to cycle in the heat of the desert) and very little cultural interest or local authenticity. All coated in the shiny gloss of brand-name consumerism. Perhaps not such a desirable place to live after all.

Like UK consumers, who kept on spending despite record levels of debt, the Dubai taste for bling, glamour and excess now looks, to some, like utter folly. It will be interesting to see how the current debt crisis plays out, but we can't help wondering whether a bit of 'reality-bites' is just what's needed to inject a bit of pragmatism into the vision for the future of the emirate.


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