Revolving Mountains and Off-Shore Palms!
The fastest-growing city on earth, Dubai is spending mind-boggling sums on construction. Given the scale of its ambition, could it become the most important place on the planet?
It looks like a hot Grozny. On the vast invented islands offshore and in the even vaster building sites that stretch in a wide band, the whole length of Dubai’s now famous riviera, acre on acre of grey-faced, concrete, hollow-eyed buildings, fenced in with scaffolding and overhung by tower cranes, stare at each other across the sands. Tower blocks look abandoned rather than half-made. It is said that a fifth of the world’s cranes are now at work here. An army of some 2,50,000 men, largely from India and Pakistan, are labouring to create the new glimmer fantasy, earning on average £150 a month, and living in camps, four in a room, 12ft by 12ft, hidden away in the industrial quarters of al Quoz. One night in one of the luxury hotels would cost six months’ wages of one of the men who built it. Below and around their work sites, the new streets are chaotic with rubble and piles of steel.
The city authorities are now giving priority to new roads, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on bridges across the Dubai Creek, five lanes in each direction, but still a taxi ride that might take 10 minutes at midday lasts an hour at either end of it. If you ask a driver to take you to some places, he laughs. “Do you want to have a very long talk?” he says.
Dubai is growing faster than any city on earth. Ravi Piyush, a dealer in the Gold Souk, said to me. “Nothing today, everything tomorrow.” The World Bank reckons that the reconstruction of Iraq is going to cost $53bn. Here, along the strip of footballer-friendly sand that stretches 25 miles or so along the shores of the Persian Gulf, there is, at a rough estimate, about $100bn worth of projects either underway or planned for the near future.
There are the three famous offshore “palms”, man-made peninsulas laden with more hotels and more “signature villas” than the entire Premiership might ever dream of. The 7,000-man workforce on one of them is too large to get on to the palm each morning without creating its own traffic jam, they are shipped in by sea from further along the coast. There is going to be a Giorgio Armani Hotel and a Palazzo Versace. There is the tallest building in the world under construction, Burj Dubai, costing $800m and expected to be 800m tall when complete, but the precise figure is being kept secret in case New York’s new Freedom Tower tries to top it. A billboard, the size of Piccadilly Circus stands out in the desert showing the pencil-thin rocket of a tower alongside a simple rubric: “History Rising.” The biggest shopping mall in the world is already here. Another, bigger, the world’s largest retail development, is under construction.
There will be an underwater hotel ($500m), one indoor ski resort, with real snow and its own black run, exists already. There is to be a second resort, with a revolving mountain. Plans are mooted for a Chess City, with 32 tower blocks of 64 floors, each in the form of a chess piece. There is to be a 60-floor apartment block in the shape of Big Ben. There will be a pyramid and a building called Atlantis that will cost $600m and include a “swim-with-the-dolphins encounter programme”. An Aviation City and a Cargo Village, an Aid City and a Humanitarian Free Zone, an Exhibition City and a Festival City, a Healthcare City and a Flower City, a $4bn extension to the airport and another entirely new airport along the coast towards Abu Dhabi, for which no figures are available, but you can take a guess at a few billion: six runways, annual capacity of 120 million passengers, 12 million tonnes of cargo.
Next to it, as the Dubai government’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing puts it, “There will be several smaller cities that will cater to the financial, industrial, service and tourism industries.” To fill these airports, Emirates, the national airline, has just placed the biggest order that Boeing has ever had: $9.7bn for 42, 777s, each capable of carrying 300 passengers non-stop more than 9,000 miles across the world. They have also ordered a fleet of the biggest Airbuses on offer, each capable of carrying 555 people.
The Middle East’s answer to Disneyland, called Dubai Land, which is far larger than Monaco, is costing $4.5bn. It will employ 300,000 people in the various joylands, servicing 15 millio visitors.
There is another side to Dubai. Drive south along the Gulf, away from the glamour zone of the great hotels, past the giant malls and the huge gas-fired power stations, almost to the western border of Dubai, and you come to the largest man-made harbour in the world. The vast quays of the modern port at Jebel Ali were dredged out of the desert sands in 1979 at a place where the present Emir’s father, Sheikh Rashid, used to come for evenings camping with his friends. The 1.5 mile-long quays are so enormous that to look the length of them is to stare into a desert haze.
Can Dubai do what Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, or almost anywhere else in the Arab world you might like to mention, have failed to do? Is Dubai, in fact, the fulcrum of the future global trading and financial system? Is it, in embryo, what London was to the 19th century and Manhattan to the 20th? Not the modern centre of the Arab world, but, more than that, the Arab centre of the modern world. (The Guardian)