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Dubai 2020

‘A patchwork quilt’ - Dubai’s pockets of development will eventually join up to form one city

Published in 2000, Sheikh Mohammed’s Vision 2010 and subsequent Strategic Plan 2015 (2007) are not masterplans so much as mission statements that set out targets for infrastructure, industry and tourism, which are then promptly executed by the government’s strategists and major developers – behemoths such as Emaar and Nakheel.

The crux of Sheikh Mohammed’s plan was to capitalise on Dubai’s location by making it a hub for tourism and trade, and a relatively tolerant, liberal base for international companies working in the Middle East.

‘It’s bigger than a vision – it’s geography,’ says Morris, his finger stabbing a map of Dubai. ‘It’s seven hours from London, seven hours from Hong Kong, and 14 hours from New York. That’s called business sense.’ Atkins, which has been working in Dubai for almost 30 years, is currently working on stations and infrastructure for the new Dubai monorail, as well as Foster + Partners’ Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (AJ 30.10.08).

Sheikh Mohammed conceived the first palm island as the solution to another problem – Dubai’s limited 72km coastline. When complete, the palm islands will add 520km of beach-front property, bolstering tourism and providing valuable real-estate.

More free zones, such as Dubai Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village, were created where businesses could set up without the usual restrictions, such as the required 51 per cent ownership by an Emirati partner. ‘I think it was forced more than proposed,’ says Jon Corish of Dubai’s development. ‘Dubai was very much a supply-led society: build it and they will come.’ Corish, a Gensler associate, worked on Dubai International Financial Centre.

Between 2000 and 2005, over 100 towers were erected in ‘New Dubai’ – the stretch of desert between the old city (traditionally laid out around the creek) and Port Jebel Ali. Sheikh Zayed Road, a highway lined with skyscrapers and two-hour traffic jams, links old and new. Developments such as Jumeirah and the world’s tallest hotel, the Burj Al Arab sprang up in pockets, with stretches of empty desert in between. Driving between Dubai’s isolated urban areas can take hours in the city’s traffic, and one wrong turn can land you back in the desert.

‘I call it a patchwork quilt,’ says Morris, whose office is a pineapple-shaped building in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the half-built towers and cranes of Dubai Silicon Oasis. ‘The whole idea is that it will finally join together and become one big city.’

In 2002, Sheikh Mohammed issued a decree allowing non-Emirati citizens to purchase freehold property for the first time. Almost overnight, Dubai was transformed into a giant property showroom and sales office. Architects were hired to create fancy renderings of iconic towers, which developers sold off-plan to queues of buyers desperate for a piece of Dubai. When the second phase of Emaar’s The Meadows’ villas went on sale, 1,000 people fought to enter the Emirates Towers ballroom, and 700 villas sold in a handful of hours. Many queued for hours, only to sell the property back to the developer for 15 per cent more at the end of the day. Properties changed hands several times before works began on site.

Part 4: Too much, too soon

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