Is Dubai creative

Having encouraged open-mindedness on your part, I must acknowledge that when it comes to Dubai, my own views aren't particularly charitable and it shows. By way of a justification for this polemic, while Dubai's modern history has a lot in it to be admired - determination and boldness, for example - I wish to provide a cautionary account of how great productive endeavour and transformation does not always equate to creativity. Remember that its productive endeavours contribute to the world's largest ecological footprint.

Dubai has blasted itself on to the world map. It has followed what it considers 'best practice' with a Dubai twist. Courageous, strategic, a place of visions, determined, motivated and focused are words one might use, but creative? That is doubtful. Clearly devel oping 'The Palm', a palm tree-shaped set of islands off the Dubai coast, is a bold endeavour, as is creating 'The World', a set of man-made islands representing every nation on the globe, or the Dubai Waterfront, part of an attempt to increase Dubai's shoreline from 60km to 800km in length. Dubai has scoured the world for best practices and has learnt the lessons of US business schools by heart and gone beyond those lessons.

Dubai provides lessons in ambition, boldness, branding, hype, centralized resourcing, potential ecological disaster, human unsus-tainability and implosion. The city state is one of seven that make up the United Arab Emirates and is governed by the ruling Maktoum family, so it has no need to consider the vagaries of democratic 'time wasting'. It can take decisions, stick to them and not worry about dissent. 'Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum wanted to put Dubai on the map with something really sensational' and to transform Dubai into a knowledge-based society and economy.5 The vision of Dubai to diversify away from oil, which now represents only 7 per cent of its income, was clear-sighted. Dubai was always a trading entrepôt and recognized early that the world was turning eastwards and that it could become a global hub between Europe and the East - a hub both logistically and, more importantly, in the knowledge- and media-based industries.

The Middle East sends out mixed messages. To many it is a zone of instability and religious zealotry, seemingly detached from the West. However, the Gulf is a sub-region that lures the West and projects calmness, certainty and safety. As the world's key oil producer, the region needs a transparent financial centre and transac-tional hub. Thirty years ago that centre was Beirut. Famed for its cosmopolitan outlook, atmosphere and diversity, it attracted bankers and tourists from the Middle East and Europe. Yet Lebanon's 16-year civil war from 1975 to 1991 destroyed both physical and networking infrastructures. Dubai had a short window of opportunity to step into the vacuum and usurp the role of Beirut, which has a far better climate, much more dramatic setting and much heritage to boot. As its advertising notes, 'Beirut is simply a melting place combining culture, history, commerce and modern life.'6 As the civil war subsided and urban regeneration initiatives like Solidaire were completed, entrepreneurs were scrambling to re-establish Beirut as the transparent hub of the Middle East. And this is where Dubai had to move fast and launched its ambitious physical programme.

The elements of Dubai's launch on to the world stage are increasingly well known and trumpeted in travel brochures and inflight magazines. Developing the Emirates airline, with Dubai airport as its hub, is the core precondition of the overall strategy. The Jebel Ali airport currently under construction seeks to handle some 120 million passengers per annum by 2025, making it the world's largest airport and overtaking Atlanta, currently the world's busiest airport, which handled 88.4 million passengers in 2005. The Dubai Metro project due for completion in 2009 is another element. The Festival of Shopping started in 1996; it 'has changed the preconceived concept of summer in the UAE and the region from sluggish to an exciting season of fun and entertainment for all under the directives of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai'.7 The land reclamation projects such as The Palm, The World archipelago and the Dubai Waterfront are the largest man-made offshore structures in the world, housing villas, hotels, shops and holiday resorts. The last on its own will consist of 440km2 of water and land developments, an area seven times the size of Manhattan. Dubai Logistics City is the world's first integrated logistics and multi-modal transport platform under a single customs-bonded and free-zone area. Spread over 25km2 it is the first phase of the huge World Central project, which will eventually combine all required transport modes with a logistics zone with ample space for warehousing and other logistics services. Nature helps here: a flat unremarkable landscape assists efficiency.

The list continues. The Burj al-Arab is the world's tallest hotel. Dubai's Media City, built by the Dubai government to boost the UAE's media foothold. Dubai Internet City. Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubaitech. All are attempts to build clusters of expertise by getting companies to relocate. These are free economic zones which allow companies a number of ownership, taxation and customs-related benefits such as 100 per cent foreign ownership and zero tax on sales, profits and personal income guaranteed by law for a period of 50 years. The goal was to become the logical place to do business in the Middle East, providing investors with an advanced business infrastructure and comprehensive platform to create value.

Everything in Dubai has to be the biggest. The Burj Dubai is intended to be the world's tallest building with the world's fastest elevator, at 18m/s (40 mph) overtaking Taipei's 101 office tower at

16.83m/s (37.5 mph). Part of the complex is co-branded with Armani to reinforce the fashion statement... and Dubai Mall is about to be the world's largest mall. 'The Earth has a new centre,' claims one of its slogans.8

Dubailand is a central plank in attracting 15 million visitors by 2010 and 40 million by 2015 - a dramatic rise from the projected 6 million in 2006. It is a vast entertainment complex growing out of the desert and claimed to be 'a destination of extraordinary vision' with 'an endless mix of day and night activities' that would appeal to 'the world's widest tourism segments, across genders, age groups, world regions and activity preference'.9 It is twice the size of Disneyworld and its 'Great Dubai Wheel' will be the world's largest observation wheel. This Gulf version of Las Vegas and Orlando will have six themed areas: a themed leisure and vacation world, an attractions and experience world, a retail and entertainment world, a sports city, an eco-tourism world, and a downtown. It will include replicas of the Eiffel Tower (70 feet taller than the original) and the Taj Mahal (one-and-a-half times bigger than the original). Aqua Dubai will boast 60 water features. This taps into the increased tendency for people to be more attracted to the simulated than to the real thing - reality appears to be too much to cope with.

The residential developments mirror the imaginary worlds, being created as a collection of idyllic communities: The Lakes, The Meadows, The Springs, Emirate Hills. One development is The Villa, described as:

a totally unique concept which offers you the opportunity to design your ultimate Spanish home... You can combine a relaxed and serene lifestyle with the Spanish countryside experience... Just imagine the view from your terrace stretching over a lush green landscape and glistening water features reflective of the Mediterranean letting you experience the beauty and tranquillity of Spanish living... Wherever you decide to build your unique villa - The Haciendas, The Ponderosa, The Aldea - you can rest assured you are becoming part of a unique community.

Furthermore you can live next door to Julio Iglesias! 'Julio felt that The Villa will help spread Spanish culture in the region, and we hope that it will.'10 Other developments allude to the virtues of Tuscany . in Dubai, that is.

Yet 'Dubai is ready for the ultimate lifestyle' and encourages you, the globalized corporate worker, 'to be part of a vibrant community of like-minded people who share the same hunger for success'. Lest anyone doubts the intentions, an indication of that chilling striving for success can be detected in Dubai developer EMAAR's annual report of 2004:

Competition is a companion of success... The possibility and probability of others replicating EMAAR's success is a foregone conclusion. Competition has intensified and short-term advantages are no longer sufficient to ensure the survival of our company. In the ferocious war for profits, winning requires relentless strategic execution, which focuses on turning merely competitive advantages into decisive advantages that will neutralize, marginalize and even punish rivals. The challenge is not what we know, but how fast we can learn, such as to change our focus from the speed of expansion to the speed of our response to customer service. We need capabilities to become different as well as better. Branding is an important way of ensuring that the extra value that has been created is perceived by customers. Impossible is a word we live with and defy every day at EMAAR and actualize into the word possible. We constantly strive for perfection. Compromise is not a word in our vocabulary. We believe that our greatest achievement is not the tallest towers or largest malls we create, but the close-knit communities we develop. We searched the world and put together the very best in their fields.11

If this is the best the world can offer it is interesting they end up with a controlled theme park.

Let's look at the flip side. Where will this lead to in 20 years' time? Of Dubai's population of just over 1 million, only 18 per cent are locals, with 65 per cent Asians, mostly low-paid workers from India and Pakistan who keep the country going, 13 per cent ex-pat Arabs and 4 per cent ex-pat Europeans. Dubai leads global cities in the proportion of foreign- to native-born population. Many Asians have lived in the city for more than a generation but have no citizenship rights. Indeed the 'Dubai-style underclass of disenfranchised immigrants'12 will do the UAE no good. Seventy-

one per cent of the population are men. Unsurprisingly there are hordes of prostitutes coming from Eastern Europe

Tourists could spend weeks in Dubai without ever meeting a native of the city. You will be served and driven around by immigrants and the physical fabric is being built primarily by immigrants, with massive imports of low-wage workers from South Asia and the Philippines. Press reports in 2006 indicate that skilled carpenters earn £4.34 (US$7.60) a day and labourers £2.84 (US$4.00) and trade unions are forbidden in the United Arab Emirates. This has sparked rioting at the Burj Araq site in 2006 and at the new airport site, where five workers were recently killed in an accident. Indeed rioting is spreading to the whole region, from Qatar and Oman to Kuwait. Millions of foreign workers have flooded Gulf nations, outweighing indigenous populations. Most of these workers are forced to give up their passports upon entering Dubai and elsewhere, making it very difficult to return home. Reports suggest workers 'typically live eight to a room, sending home a portion of their salary to their families, whom they don't see for years at a time'.13 Others report that their salaries have been withheld to pay back loans, making them little more than indentured servants. There's a good chance they live in Sonapur, a collection of run-down, dirty tenements housing more than 150,000 workers. Therein lies another story beyond Dubai's shimmering skyscrapers. As Dubai has wittingly transposed Spain on to its land, Sonapur is an unwitting importation of a rather less glamorous, subcontinental urban life. And a story that is growing concerns rumours that the whole edifice is in part financed by money-laundering.

Consider too that the UAE's 'ecological footprint' is the worst of all countries in the world. Using data from 2001, the UAE has the biggest ecological footprint, at 9.9 global hectares per person, which means that five-and-a-half planets would be needed to sustain a UAE lifestyle applied globally. If Dubai were isolated from the UAE and 2006 data were used, its lifestyle is likely to require ten planets' equivalent.14 This ecological overshoot can go unnoticed since there seem to be no apparent shortages. Water flows from taps, food appears in supermarkets, garbage disappears from streets, restaurants are overflowing with delicacies and new products materialize all around us as we are induced into buying more and still more. Yet consumption does not mean there are no limits. The limits are simply masked by not seeing the wider picture.

Behind the UAE, Kuwait, the US and Australia are the major footprint makers.

One can see why when Dubai's new US$275 million Ski Dome is a 'monument to ecological folly' and has perfect conditions every day, in a city where temperatures can reach can reach 50°C. The Ski Dubai centre expends thousands of watts on keeping its indoor climate at -1.4°C all year round. More than 6000 tonnes of snow cover an area the size of three football fields and 30 tonnes of fresh supplies will be added nightly to maintain a depth of 70cm.15

Equally the Burj al-Arab's self-characterization as a '7-star' hotel is considered by travel professionals to be hyperbole and an attempt to outdo a number of other hotels which claim '6-star' status. All major travel guides and hotel rating systems have a 5-star maximum.

What has been achieved? Dubai, a trading port and backwater pearl-diving village until the late 1950s, has found innovative new ways of reinventing its role as middleman. Leadership has been clever in using every trick in the urban revitalizer's book, from tax incentives, the 2002 decree allowing foreigners to buy homes and apartments to branding. For instance, [email protected] is a facility within Dubai Internet City that allows companies to lease short-term office space while exploring business and market opportunities. Dubai attracted the International Cricket Council to recreate their headquarters in Dubai, parting from Lords in London, the emblematic home of cricket which had hosted the ICC for 95 years. Some initiatives, such as creating 800km of new waterfront, can be considered inspiring in logistical terms, albeit devastating to the environment.

Crucially Dubai has understood the inherent insecurity and conservatism of the corporate executives they are trying to attract and their desire for safety and certainty, with a contained sense of buzz - the familiar in the apparently unfamiliar.

Yet in the terms in which I define creativity in the Art of City-Making, namely creativity for the world with an ethical foundation that harnesses widespread talent, Dubai is not creative. Given its leaders' proven track record of boldness and willingness to be inventive and visionary, Dubai's financial resources, the unequalled power of its rulers, the free sunshine beaming down on them, why did Dubai not try to become the most ecologically sustainable city in the world, rather than the least? Why did it not become a model of what city-making could be like in the use of innovative new energy-saving materials, building techniques and new eco-design? Why did they not follow the lead of eco-skyscraper builders like Ken Yeung to reduce air-conditioning needs and to create natural ventilation? Why does constructing a city mean treating the workforce as if they were second-class citizens? Why does Dubai think that striving for 15 million visitors has to be central to its positioning? Could they not have soft-pedalled on that and still achieved the objective of being a hub? How come that by consulting the 'best experts in the world in their field' Dubai ends up with extensive theme park experiences and residential quarters that barely have anything to do with Arabia and hardly reflect or build upon the historic inventiveness of Arabs at all? Perhaps Dubai is being advised by experts with little sense of larger, globally sustaining values, notions of local distinctiveness and what it means to establish creative environments, where difference means innovation, not rarefied gated communities. Why has Dubai fallen for the fake experience rather than the real? How come it was not confident or courageous enough to seduce the corporate class it is attracting to its hub with something bordering on the authentic where locals and incomers could co-create a new Dubai identity not merely based on brand names? Indeed some locals privately wonder how long Maktoum's miracle can continue - and whether his unique society would survive a major political or economic shock. This shock could come from many places - from religious, reactionary zeal, democratic pressures unleashed by needing to maintain openness to the world or ecological disaster to a global downturn in tourism.

Let us not forget that an age of creativity requires conversation, debate, consensus, disagreement and inevitable dissent that is leavened by democratic processes where all people, women and men, have a chance to participate fully. Is dissent allowed in Dubai? Can women be equal in Dubai? Only then can one begin to discuss the comprehensive creativity of a place.

Imitating the Dubai approach

Dubai has inspired others to follow who will build on its experience and take it further. Qatar is one, where the Pearl-Qatar will be a secure, family oriented environment. It will be like no other destination in the Middle East.

Modelled on the best of the Mediterranean, it will be the Arabian Riviera (Riviera Arabia) and will offer a lifestyle reminiscent of France and Italy in the heart of the Arabian Gulf. The Pearl-Qatar will have 40 kilometres of reclaimed coastline and 20 kilometres of pristine beaches. Porto Arabia is a continental marina with a heart which beats to the rhythm of Arabia ... It captures the vibrant sophistication of the Riviera. Colourful, refined and conducive to the highest standards of living, Piazza Arabia, the 'dynamic hub' of Porto Arabia, is an exciting retail, dining and cultural experience of incredible sophistication. Nowhere is the Riviera more aptly captured than in this Arabian Piazza - a blend of cosmopolitan chic and refined good taste - a place to meet and watch the world go by or to browse some of the world's most revered brands.16

The City of Silk in Kuwait will, it is hoped, be located on the northern shore of Kuwait Bay. It will take 25 years to complete and will house 700,000 people and cost US$85 billion. The city will have four main districts. The Financial District, with its centrepiece tower, the 1001m-high Mubarak Tower, 'inspired by the 1001 nights story and the desert plant life. The tower will be composed of 7 vertical villages which will consist of hotels, offices, residences and entertainment facilities'. The Entertainment District will contain resorts, hotels and entertainment villages. The Cultural District will be located on a peninsula with a centre for research on ancient artefacts, a historical museum and an arts centre. The Environmental District will be located at the heart of the city as part of the Bird Reserve for birds migrating from Africa to Central Asia. It will include an Environmental Research Centre and an extended network of universities and a health resort. The entire city will be surrounded by an emerald belt which will contain ponds, lakes and parks which will ensure that no one is more than a couple of steps away from the emerald belt.17

The Dubai model is self-replicating. Dubai's EMAAR is building King Abdullah Economic City (!) near Jeddah along the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia, which at US$26 billion is considered relatively small scale. It is divided into six zones, with huge skyscrapers, including a seaport, a resort zone, an industrial zone for manufacturing and logistics, an education zone, a financial island and a residential area.

Can the city boom continue? One is reminded of the Japanese mega-projects in the 1980s, such as Osaka's Minatu-ku, which attempted to lodge Japan on to the global map. Yet projects can fail, although when swept along their success can seem inevitable.

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