Dubai: The City in the Desert

A few months ago, I found out that one of my projects was accepted to be showcased at the Dubai Design Week. This was exciting for a couple of reasons. First of all, people like my project. Second, I would be going to Dubai, a place that I wanted to go to, but didn’t really have plans to go to anytime soon.

Being from the Western World, the view of the Middle East that we are presented with is often skewed, to say the least. Dubai is in an interesting spot though, since it’s probably the most commercialized city in the Middle East with a relatively liberal society. As a result, I had no idea what to expect going into this trip.

The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to a desert country.
The only thing I knew for sure was that I was going to a desert country.

It was an interesting trip, because probably every expectation I had about the city was both true and false at the same time. It was a case where the expectation was technically true, but there were aspects about it that were completely unexpected.

The first thing people normally think about when they think about Dubai is the luxury and the grandness of the place. You know, the Burj Khalifa, the “seven star hotel”, luxury cars, gold plated everything. People think of all the money that gets poured into the development of the city, and as a result, the people as well.

I can’t say that’s not true, but it turns out that’s a pretty naive view of the city. Yes, the city is unbelievably grand. The downtown city area was built relatively recently and you can tell a lot of money was spent on designing and constructing the buildings. Normally when you go to a city, most of the buildings just look like generic buildings with a few landmarks. But not Dubai.

It's very obvious which parts of the city they focused on developing first.
It’s very obvious which parts of the city they focused on developing first.

I don’t have a good skyline picture of Dubai, but you can kinda get what I’m talking about from that picture. For one, the density in Dubai is weird. It looks like they just focused all of their major developments along those two roads that intersect on the bottom left there. And if you look at those buildings, they’re all different. There’s really no copy-paste syndrome like you might find in other cities like Seoul. You have different types of architectural styles found very close together.

But once you leave the city center, the feeling of the city changes drastically. Gone are the fancy cars and the modern buildings. In fact, gone are all the Arab people. Once you take the subway out a couple stops into the older districts, everything is different. It’s primarily populated by immigrant workers, mainly South Asian males, and the dichotomy is so real.

Abras, a cheap way to cross the Dubai Creek.
Abras, a cheap way to cross the Dubai Creek.

It’s interesting to note that according to Wikipedia, only 15% of the population in Dubai are UAE nationals. That’s a fun fact that can be clearly seen the moment you even get on the metro, since the number of people you see wearing Kandorahs or Abayas drops dramatically.

Normally, each city has different facets to it which adds to the character of the city. Dubai is no exception to this rule, but where most other cities feel like the evolved somewhat organically, Dubai feels very artificial. When you’re out of the city center, the roads sprawl out and the buildings feel like they are a part of the surroundings. But the moment you re-enter the city center, everything feels so planned and forced. Like they just cleared out a giant chunk of the city and plopped down this mega-city.

How many construction cranes can you see?
How many construction cranes can you see?

The entire downtown area is like, under construction. And we’re not even talking about road work or anything either. We’re talking bridges and canals, skyscrapers and towers, entire districts. It’s kind of amazing actually how much stuff they are concurrently building.

Like the Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall are respectively the tallest building and the largest mall in the world, and they’re currently in the development of a taller building and a larger mall. That’s incredible. If you have the excess money to spend, Dubai is a fantastic place to just spend money and feel amazing about it. It felt grand to even just lay eyes on the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Al Arab, let alone eat meals or spend the night in them.

Essentially a tourist resort designed as a traditional souk.
Essentially a tourist resort designed as a traditional souk.

So in short, would I go back to Dubai? Yes. Definitely. But I don’t want to go back anytime soon. Maybe in like a decade from now or so. I feel like Dubai is a city that is constantly evolving, especially with the amount of construction going on. Ten years from now it’s going to be a completely different experience, and I think that’s really exciting. I’m very curious to see what it turns into.

If you are interested in seeing traditional culture and sights, then I might not recommend Dubai that highly. But if you are interested in seeing a city built to be luxurious that also has a lot of visible contrast, then Dubai is definitely worth visiting. Just be warned, it’ll be hot in the summer and things aren’t that cheap (in the city center at least).

Author: Gary

Explorer, Creator, Gamer. #IDKAIST MSc and #UOITGameDev Alumni.

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