The US Congress’ trepidation over the Dubai port deal hinges
upon a central talking point: that we would be handing over many of
our ports to a foreign company owned by an Arab state. Yet what the
debate fails to recognize is that Dubai, home base to the company
that would manage the ports, is quickly becoming the paragon of
modern urban infrastructure and planning.
Part offshore investment haven awash in global capital, part
luxury theme park, Dubai accelerated its rise to prominence after
Sept. 11, 2001. Realizing both that their oil supply was soon to
run dry and that many Arab countries were withdrawing investment
from Western nations, Dubai officials embarked upon a massive
development agenda that has dropped jaws around the world.
Unverified reports claim that some 20 percent of the world’s
construction cranes are in the Emirate of Dubai, which is the size
of Rhode Island. And what are they building? Indoor ski slopes; the
biggest shopping mall in the world; underwater hotels; the tallest
skyscraper ever; and archipelagoes of islands, some forming massive
palm trees, another forming a 24 square kilometer world map.
‘Dubai is a prototype of the new post-global city, which creates
appetites rather than solves problems,’
George Katodrytis, an architect working in Dubai, in a piece
originally published in Bidoun. Indeed, Dubai has remade
itself as the paragon of imitation culture, a nowhere-land that has
architects salivating. Suddenly unburdened of nearly all
constraints save profitability, those late-night bouts of wishful
thinking go from sketch to concrete with lightning speed.
It’s as if the Americanized global subconscious suddenly bubbled
over and spawned a city of fantasy — in Las Vegas you can ride a
gondola in a casino, but that’s small change compared to skiing in
the desert. In the course of becoming, in the words of
The Guardian‘s Adam Nicolson, ‘not the modern centre of
the Arab world but, more than that, the Arab centre of the modern
world,’ Dubai has bent a few — albeit major — rules. Political
dissent is nonexistent, child labor standards are as weak as the
children working for the Emirate’s ruler, and immigrant workers are
held in slave-like conditions.
Nevertheless, the city is quickly becoming the most
architecturally and infrastructurally advanced in the world. It’s
been said that Dubai is being run like a corporation, and many
think that tack is working, turning it into what
Davis, writing in Tomdispatch.com, refers to as ‘the
new global icon of imagineered urbanism.’ The world is taking note
— whether out of fascination or fear it is too early to say —
waiting to see what is dreamed up next in Dubai.
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