Monday, March 24, 2008

Urbanist in Dubai

City Comforts visits Dubai, and is appalled by the poor urban planning he finds there.
Dubai is doing an absolutely brilliant job of creating itself using the very worst urban model possible: USA 1975. The new part of Dubai is not even remotely a walkable city and gives no promise of being so. (I put it that way because there is so much construction going on that without local knowledge or access to plans it is not totally clear what it will be like.) But none of the real estate advertising I saw, for example, gives any indication that there is more to life than "prestige" and "exclusivity" and "luxury" and nothing to urban charm or walkability etc etc.
All of this is quite true. Dubai is very hot most of the year, so old Dubai, built when it was poorer, has dense shops with individual air conditioners in each shop, and no parking.

The moved some of the old Dubai feel into a rather lovely souk in Sharjah, where tall towers help funnel in breezes and keep the whole thing quite cool, even though it is also not air conditioned.

But the air conditioned mall was a clear favorite, beginning with the now run down Al Ghurair center and continuing on to the ever larger projects being built today.

Dubai's currency is pegged to the dollar, and so it has been experiencing dramatic inflation over the past few years. In a high inflationary environment, you want to take on as much debt as possible, and the best way for individuals to take on debt is to buy mortgaged property . Dubai combines dramatically increasing housing stock with dramatically higher prices, in what is either the largest property bubble since the Ostrich Palaces of Oudtshoorn or the birth of a new Singapore. Or both.

City Comfort is correct to note that urban planning in Dubai is non-existent. The folks advising the Sheik on this stuff are the same people who planned the US and UK in the 60s-80s, so it's unsurprising that the new development is so awful. But once the Sheik learns about smarter urban planning he can change his ship-of-state on a dime. There is a lot to be said of the "government=property developer" model of politics.

(Thanks William!)


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