Dubai's Strange Development Pattern Spreading

The economic downturn has halted many projects in Dubai, but the show's not over in the elaborate emirate. In fact, its patterns of development may even be spreading to other cities around the world.

Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne examines the unique type of development going on in Dubai, where mini-cities within the city stand as self-contained and separate urban imitations.

"Dubai's new neighborhoods, by contrast, have been colonized by builders simply pushing out into virgin desert -- or, in the case of the emirate's now-iconic island developments, into the gulf. That makes Dubai -- its neighborhoods unburdened by history, its developers unconstrained by zoning codes, preservation battles or community activism -- an unusually pure, unfiltered example of what new cities look like in the age of globalization."

Full Story: Dubai development may be down, but it's not out

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Dubai: seeing what you want to see...

I would like to add that there is a quite large older area of Dubai which spreads out at least 2 to 3-km from both sides of “the creek” (Khor Dubai) which is the historic heart of Dubai (Deira on the north side and Bur Dubai on the south side of the creek). I would submit that this is the traditional “multi-layered… melting pot… etc., etc...” urban centre of the city. It is a very congested, very dense, fine-grained collection of urban neighbourhoods which are colourful, full of energy, and very walkable. The historic neighbourhoods of Bastakia and Shindagha, partially restored, are also located here. Walking, in fact, is the only practical way of getting around since cars can barely move in the narrow, almost always gridlocked streets; dozens of small wooden “abras” ferry tens of thousands of people back and forth across the creek everyday, which in addition to adding to local colour, serve as an important local transport link.

As a planner who works in Dubai and knows the city well, I can say that Mr. Hawthorne’s description of Dubai is better than most. He clearly understands and accurately describes the dynamic that drives present-day development in this city, and how it may influence development going forward in other parts of the world, for better or worse. However, like every single urban critic/journalist who flies in for a couple days, he has ignored the fact that there exists in Dubai a “traditional” urban centre that was here long before Mall of the Emirates and its ski run were built. That Dubai is all 100-storey skyscrapers, outlandish mega-malls, and themed neighbourhoods, is not a complete picture. As I mentioned once before on this blog, urban critics seem to come here looking for Las Vegas glitz and that’s all they see.

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