Friday, February 15, 2013

Adam Plagge's participation in the 2013 University of Iowa Global Learning Opportunity trip to Dubai offered a unique look into the transformation of Dubai from a small pearl diving village into a cutting edge urban environment. In the U.S., large scale public works projects are meticulously slow and few and far between; Boston’s ‘Big Dig’ took 17 years of construction and decades of contemplation. In Dubai, public opinion and funding concerns take a back seat to vision and implementation. For example, Dubai’s 44 station 10 billion dollar metro project was completed in approximately 6 years. Equally impressive are Nakheel Properties’, a government owned developer, Palm and World islands. These man made islands constructed from tightly packed sand have more than doubled the Dubai coast line and drawn buyers from around the world. Nakheel’s spokesmen also assured us during a presentation, “No the islands are not sinking, only settling as anticipated.” Vanity projects dot the skyline as developers compete to construct the tallest buildings, largest malls, highest shooting water fountains, and most glamorous hotels. Adam says he can only imagine that Dubai today is reminiscent of Las Vegas during its 1930’s boom time.

Zealous construction projects aside, Dubai’s urban environment is similar to that of that of a U.S. city. Packed highways serve as the primary method of transportation. Hot summer temperatures combined with the city’s isolated mega structure layout dictate residents use the winding skywalks or jump in a cab trip for even the shortest trip. The resulting empty downtown sidewalks make L.A. look like a pedestrian epicenter. A glamorous Dubai Chamber of Commerce is filled with smooth talking English speaking Emeriti, natives of the UEA, extoling the tax benefits for foreign businesses willing to open up shop in freehold areas. Freehold are areas where land can be 100% owned by foreigners, a revolutionary idea in the Middle East. Everywhere you look you can see the impressive footprint of Sheik Mohammed’s proclamations. However, with 85% of the population being working age foreign nationals the omnipresent question remains, “Is Dubai sustainable?” Despite nearly imploding during the depths of the financial crises, Dubai is once again racing forward full throttle reigniting the debate about the role of government planned and financed development as it goes.