Friday, December 28

Work in progress

Palm Island Resort, Dubai. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Dubai has to be one of the world’s most remarkable places. Here, on the edge of the Arabian Gulf, a major world city is literally being built overnight. Currently the emirate has 50% of the world's largest construction cranes working on projects worth over $100 billion - most of which will be completed within the next 5-7 years. Garry and I took a bus tour today to see many of these developments for ourselves. The commentary alone was overwhelming as project after project was reviewed. I’ve tried to capture just a few of the highlights in this post. A more complete list can be found at this link. I'll also post a few photos when we're back in London.

Aside from a few new bridges and highways Dubai is currently building a 70km metro system, consisting of two intersecting lines. The first line is scheduled to open in 2009, the second two years later. Some of the metro will run underground while other sections will sit on elevated tracks along the city’s central highway. You can already see columns for the elevated track stretching for kilometres, extending from the city’s new deep-sea port in the south to the city’s historic heart further north. Two additional lines were announced earlier this year, increasing the metro’s length to more than 300kms by 2020.

Next to the current business district (which itself replaced the original business district by Dubai Creek in the 1990s) a new central business district is being built. At the centre of this development sits Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building. It currently stands more than 585 metres high (156 floors), with at least another 200 metres yet to be built. At its base a new artificial lake has been constructed, along with the world’s largest shopping mall, Dubai Mall. In all, more than 200 office towers are being erected in the surrounding 500-acre zone. As you'd expect, construction cranes and earthworks can be seen in abundance.

Several kilometres away an entire medial campus called Dubai Heathcare City is under construction. The project includes healthcare institutions, hospitals and clinics, medical and fitness clusters, laboratories and research centres, a nursing school and a medical university. Today we saw dozens and dozens of buildings in various phases of construction in this zone. The last construction crane is scheduled to depart the area in 2010.

Nearby an entire leisure district called Festival City is nearing completion. Garry and I visited the first completed phase on Monday – a enormous mall consisting of more than 150 shops and departments stores set around a curving artificial canal. Once completed the ‘city’ will host more than 90 waterfront restaurants and cafes, a 12-screen cinema complex, bowling alley, family entertainment centre, championship golf course and luxury marina, along with four giant hotels. Incredibly, this ‘city’ is just one of more than nine similar cities being built across the desert.

This includes International City, an internationally-themed residential, tourist and commercial complex, covering 800 hectares and; Exhibition City, a site that include 19 exhibition halls, conference halls and service facilities, alongside hotels, restaurants and residential apartments. Also due for completion next year is Dubai Sports City, a giant multi-purpose sports venue boasting more than four different stadiums, yet more shopping malls, residential complexes and a golf course. At least six other golf courses are in various stages of development around the city.

Of course I’ve not even begun to mention many of the more frivolous entertainment venues under construction. This includes a planetarium and Dubai Marine World, a marine park featuring a Dolphinarium, an alligator park, a coral reef aquarium, fish farm, and research centre. Both open next year. However, these amusement venues pale into insignificance next to Dubailand. Billed as the most ambitious tourist destination ever, it will be twice the size of Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort upon completion.

The first phase opens in 2010, with succeeding phases being added over another eight years. Dubailand will include yet another giant mall complex, The Mall of Arabia. This will become the world’s largest mall when it opens, housing more than 1000 stores. The Dubailand site will also include a dinosaur theme park complete with life-size animatronic animals, a 10 km river and a giant wheel, larger than the London Eye.

With all this in place, Dubai plans to attract 15 million visitors a year by 2015. To ensure they'll all reach Dubai in time, a second international airport is about to begin construction. When completed the six-runway complex will have sufficient capacity for 120 million passengers a year and 20 million tonnes of cargo. Naturally, the world’s largest hotel complex will also be needed to house so many visitors. Around Dubailand alone, at least 51 new hotels with a total of 60,000 rooms are planned. The largest single complex here will boast 6,500-rooms but you’ll have to wait until 2010 before making a reservation.

Dubailand is already creating its own local economy. In October a new housing project was unveiled within the site. It will house approximately 50,000 residents in five zones built to resemble the Arab cities of Baghdad, Beirut, Damascus, Cairo and Marrakech. However, if you’d prefer a coastal vista, then try Dubai Waterfront. This is an entire city being built on a series of artificial islands.

Dubai has already added several hundred kilometres to its coastline by building a series of reclaimed islands in the shape of giant palms. The first such island, now the smallest, displays 17 huge fronds framed by a 12-kilometer protective barrier. When completed, the resort is expected to support a population of approximately 500,000 people. We saw much of it under construction today, including several stunning high-rise hotels that appear to rise from the sea several kilometres offshore.

Dubai is indeed one jaw-dropping construction zone. In fact the tourist map we were handed at the hotel identifies no fewer than 17 different construction zones across a 20 kilometre stretch of coastline. You feel as if you’ve arrived five years too soon. I've already promised myself I'll be back to see the finished product.


Rhonda said...

It's all very fascinating. We saw a documentary on Dubai earlier this year and what they are doing there is unbelievable. You will definitely have to revisit, won't know the place in ten years time.

Anonymous said...

hey andrew, thanks for an interesting view of one of the most fascintating places around. i think i'll wait a few more years to visit, but it's on the list! take care, - Rowan