Monday, April 06, 2009

Dubai - first impressions

Dubai - the city where I'm going to spend the next 5 months. New York and Dubai are totally different in so many ways. While New York started its journey somewhere in the 1600s, Dubai as we know today is onyl a few decades growth. Both cities have one of the largest number of skyscrapers. But while New York has packed so many of them on the Manhattan island, Dubai has allowed them them to spread across.

Dubai seems to have had a unique growth model. Unlike many other world cities, which grew as the population moved in, Dubai was specifically planned and built, so that the population would one day move in.

Everything here is so big and built on a very grand scale. They've tried to create the world's largest, tallest, biggest ... in everything. While Old Dubai area called Deira has its share of narrow streets and old buildings, they've just built an entirely new downtown area called 'Burj Dubai' consisting of huge 16 lane roads and super tall buildings.

The Sheik Zayed road is the spine of Burj dubai. This is a 16 lane road stretching for miles inside Dubai. In fact it also connects to Abu dabhi and other emirates. On both sides of the road are one of the most dazzling array of super tall buildings. Virtually, every major company has set up shop here. There is a huge indoor skiing place that has ski sloped of the expert levels. The Burj Dubai building is currently the world's tallest building. It has not been completed, but has already reached 818 m. A building stretching almost a kilometer into the sky!!!

Then there are palm Jumeira islands. These are entirely artificial islands built by dredging the sea shore. The islands are shaped like a palm leaf. The leaf like structures are called fronds and each contain luxury villas that have sold for millions of Dirhams. Even the smallest apartments cost over a million. At the head of the structures is the ultra-luxury hotels - Atlantis, that supposedly has rooms under the sea. So, if you look out the windows of one of those, you'll see under the ocean.

Apart from the downtown district, Dubai has allocated chunks of desert for different industries as free zones. The usual laws of doing business in UAE does not hold good in these zones. There is an academic city(where my college is), international city (place of my stay), silicon oasis for electronic research, aviation city, sports city etc.

Construction has been going on in every single part. At any point, you can dozens of cranes over buildings. But it is so glaringly evident that things have gone terribly wrong in the city. The rulers have taken too huge a step and as a result, have been so badly hit by recession. Foreign investment has totally dried up. One can see huge buildings in the downtown district sporting the "for rent" signs. The roads are seeing less traffic as so many expatriates have returned. Most of the projects including the Dubai metro have been delayed or stopped.

Dubai is a millionaire's paradise. It grew so fast and hence when the fall came, is hurt so badly. Hopefully, things get better and the city starts growing again.