11 August 2006

In Dubai, Even the Islands Look Like Palm Trees

Dubai is a city in the UAE, a wealthy nation on the arab peninsula, opposite Iran across the Straits of Hormuz. Only 23% of residents are "emirati", the rest are mostly outside workers from south asia, arab countries, and a small proportion of foreign residents from outside the muslim world.

The Palm Jumeirah, a 12-square-mile island group, is part of what's billed as the largest land-reclamation project in the world, the product of five years of brute hauling of millions of tons of Persian Gulf sand and quarried rock.

On Nov. 30, the palm will open to some 4,000 residents, said Issam Kazim, a spokesman for Dubai's state-owned developer Nakheel.

When fully complete by 2010, the Palm Jumeirah will be an offshore city, with some 60,000 residents and at least 50,000 workers in 32 hotels and dozens of shops and attractions, Nakheel said.

Observers say they are surprised that the fledgling developer has been able to build such a complex project more or less as planned, albeit with several snags that delayed the opening from last year.

"The project has captured people's imagination," said Colin Foreman of the Middle East Economic Digest. "Nothing like it has been done anywhere else in the world."

Nakheel's four island projects, the world's largest land reclamation effort, are reshaping Dubai's stretch of the Gulf coast.

The $14 billion project is a key part of this booming city's ambitions to rival Singapore and Hong Kong as a business hub, and surpass Las Vegas as a leisure capital.

The frenetic pace of development has utterly transformed Dubai from a sleepy trading and pearl-diving village in the 1950s to a flashy metropolis of 1.5 million.

The island's construction has not all been smooth, and most buyers were supposed to get keys to their island homes a year ago.

Some of the new land sank and Nakheel needed an extra year to add more and pack it with vibrating land compactors, Kazim said.

Reports from those who have wandered through the island's giant homes describe them as cheaply finished and set uncomfortably close to one another. Nakheel rejected an Associated Press request to visit the island.

Overburdened roads in Dubai's Jumeirah Beach neighborhood are expected to clog further as people begin moving onto the island, accessible, for now, by a single bridge. Mainlanders have already put up with years of road works and innumerable trucks hauling boulders to the island.

Those moving onto the Palm Jumeirah this year will have to live with construction for another three years, and then an influx of tourists. Most of the owners are foreigners, with Britons making up the largest group, Kazim said.

Many observers believe Dubai's frenetic homebuilding will soon outstrip demand.

"We've still got a shortage of properties in Dubai, but that's likely to become an excess in next six or 12 months," said Steve Brice, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai.

Brice said year-old estimates that 50,000 housing units would hit the market in 2006 will be more than doubled. Nakheel, one of three big developers here, has said it will release 60,000 units in the 2nd half of 2006 alone.

Nakheel's two copycat Palms, the Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira, have also been delayed by design changes and other factors, Kazim said. A nearly finished fourth Nakheel archipelago, shaped like a map of the world, has attracted few buyers and remains mostly unsold.

Kazim said The World's sales trouble stems from simple economics: Nakheel is selling empty islands for tens of millions of dollars only to builders promising low-density luxury.

Dubai's government expects the Palm Jumeirah to become a signature tourist attraction, bringing in as many as 20,000 daily visitors, Kazim said.

Meanwhile, laborers living in a cruise ship moored offshore are scrambling to finish enormous concrete houses that are crammed together on the palm island's 17 "fronds." The fronds are narrow peninsulas as long as a mile, attached to the island's main trunk. Nakheel will hand keys to owners of 1,350 homes by Nov. 30, Kazim said.

According to informed sources, living is good in Dubai, even for foreign workers. Skilled westerners can expect to be paid significantly more for their skills than at home, often with considerable tax advantages. Businessmen from outside UAE must get an emirati as a partner and nominal owner, as a condition for tapping into the booming economy there.

UAE is attempting to escape the " ideological straightjacket" that makes life in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other muslim oil states so constricting. As long as the jihadi troublemakers from UAE are concentrating on making trouble elsewhere, life is good inside the emirates. UAE is also trying to move seamlessly from the oil economy to the "post-oil" economy, which is why it welcomes more investment and ideas from overseas than its less enlightened arab brother nations.

Given that arabs are a minority population in the UAE, it is easy to think of UAE and Dubai as "gateways to the world" for the arab people. Lebanon functions as such also, when it is not being embroiled in civil wars, Hizbollah inspired wars of stupidity, or other self-inflicted problems.l


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Blogger Tastes like chicken said...

The rapid pace of building has led to some unexpected effects on Google Maps, as you zoom into the Dubai coastline. Try the link, then zoom in one more click. Fast, these Arab builders, ain't they?

Thursday, 21 June, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Dubai is not an arab country, in terms of the professional architects, engineers, and builders. Most people living in Dubai are not arabs.

So, no, Arab builders are not particularly fast. But the foreign builders hired by emirate businessmen can work quite fast for a good price.

Thursday, 21 June, 2007  

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