Dubai…believing is seeing

‘Call it the power of inevitability’, scroll the white letters on a black background, as a woman wails in Islamic fervour. ‘You know you have to be here.’ Cut to a speedboat racing across the bay towards a mighty skyscraper. ‘Believing is seeing’, flash the white letters.  A sports car approaches the skyscraper, and a dapper figure climbs out. It’s…it’s Tyler Brûlé!

No, it’s the latest advert for the Trump Tower in Dubai, one of the many vanity real estate projects announced in the boom years, that have now hit the rocks. ‘The thrill that every whim will soon become a reality’, the advert coos. Well, maybe not that soon. Local developer Nakheel, owned by the Dubai emirate, is struggling to pay back its $10bn in debt, and may have to be bailed out by the UAE government. Its Palm Deira and Waterfront projects, once planned to be bigger than Hong Kong, have also been delayed.

So too has the Pad, a high-tech residential complex built by Omniyat, in which each apartment would be ‘intelligent’, which means, apparently, it would monitor residents’ body temperatures and their taste in entertainment, so your apartment would know when you bring back a girl, and would intelligently turn up the temperature, dim the lights, and play Barry Manilow. Alas, the developers proved slightly less intelligent than the apartments, and the project has been delayed.

So many new properties are coming onto the market in the next two years, that Nomura estimates 150,000 jobs would need to be created to fill all the new office space. Alas, the trend is going the other way – Jones Lang La Salle estimates the population of Dubai will fall 10% this year.

Still, analysts are optimistic that Dubai will remain the main financial and trading hub for the Middle East, despite the best efforts of Riyadh, Doha, Beirut and Manama to challenge it. There’s no booze in Riyadh, Doha is incredibly boring, Manama is even less financially transparent, and Beirut is constantly being dragged to war by Hesbollah.

So the Biblical prophecies of the collapse of Dubai are unlikely to come true in the near future, much to the disappointment of Simon Jenkins, who started foaming at the mouth at the prospect earlier this year:

This off-the-shelf city state has been built on laundering the profits of oil, drugs, arms and western aid, he raved [western aid? shurely not]..the towers of Dubai will become casualties not of human greed but of architectural folly. Their lifts and services, expensive to maintain, will collapse. Their colossal facades will shed glass. Sand will drift round their trunkless legs. Animals will inhabit their basements.

Thousands of residential properties, if occupied at all, will be squatted by a migratory poor, like the hotel towers of the Spanish littoral or Corbusier’s blockhouses of Chandigarh in India. Refugees will colonise the camps where Indian workers have lived as they built Dubai. Gangs will seize the gated estates and random anarchy will rule the soulless boulevards.

If it is lucky Dubai will at least be a refuge from the political cataclysms that could engulf countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. But mostly the dunes will reclaim the place. In centuries to come, tourists will share with Ozymandias the message: “Look on my works ye mighty and despair.’” With Shelley they will see how, “round the decay /Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare /The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Not a big traveller, are you Simon?