In last month’s small world we visited Bogota, Colombia, and from there we go to one of her sister cities, Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). While they may be sister cities, it many ways they could not be more different than each other. The oldest architecture in Bogota is from the colonial period in the early 1800s after the independence of Colombia. And while human civilization in the area now known as Dubai can be dated back to the 3rd millennium B.C., Dubai is now more commonly recognized for its modern architecture, including the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (towering over 2,700 feet).
Dubai is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates with just under 2.3 million inhabitants. In 2010, Mercer’s Cost of Living index said that Dubai was one of the 50 most expensive cities to live in, though they have fallen on that list several spots to around 80th, putting them on par with Los Angeles. In years past, it was considered the richest city in the world; and while Dubai no longer holds that title, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate for 2012 is expected to be in the 4-5% range, far exceeding the 1.9% expected for the United States. The city generates nearly 33% of the GDP for the country on its own, due in large part to its base for many international oil and gas companies, but also because of its booming tourism industry.
Nestled along the Persian Gulf, the city made its name in the pearl trade in the early part of the 20th Century. As the pearl trade started to decline, Dubai and the rest of the region increased their exploitation of the rich oil resources in the area. Finding the inland desert region of the UAE too difficult to conquer, in partnership with British Petroleum, the nation set its sights on offshore exploration. Oil was first struck in the UAE in 1958, and it continues to be one of the most productive areas of the world. The UAE is seventh on the list of proven oil reserves, with Dubai holding 4% of the oil, and approximately 2% of the natural gas in the country.
The population of Dubai has grown drastically since the discovery of oil in the late ‘50s, growing by 300% in the 1970s alone! Today, less than a quarter of the city’s inhabitants are national citizens, with the other 80% coming from all over the world – but mostly from the Middle East, Southeast Asia and North Africa. The majority of these expatriates are there to work in the oil and gas industry.
With people from every corner of the world, the culture of Dubai is very diverse. The UAE is one of the most religiously tolerant Arab countries in the region, and Christian churches, Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras all accompany the numerous mosques on Dubai’s streets. The city also plays host to numerous conventions and conferences which welcome nearly 2 million people a year. This continuous influx of people from all over the world adds to the vibrant culture of the city.
Regional economic growth fueled by oil and gas revenues ($305 billion in 2006) and tourism is expected to continue long into the 21st Century, as such city planners are continuously working to prepare for the Dubai of tomorrow. The tourism industry is estimated to grow from 5 million in 2007 to nearly 15 million guests in 2020, with the arc continuing to grow steadily from there. In their Dubai Strategic Plan, it is clear that planners have high hopes for the years to come. Between 2000 and 2005, Dubai recorded an annual GDP growth rate of 13%, putting it six percentage points ahead of the Qatar’s growth, a rapidly growing country in the region. Dubai city planners adhere to a guiding principle made up of five components: economy, which promotes adoption of free market principles; social development, which aims to protect the national identity, culture and way of life; security, justice and safety, which ensures the protection of human rights; infrastructure, land and environment, which seeks to protect the environment at or above international standards and to provide world-class infrastructure; and public sector excellence, which includes a transparent government.
And Dubai continues to invent wonders of architecture. In cooperation with Deep Ocean Technology, there have been plans approved for a hotel that will sit 21 stories under the water! Dubbed the Water Discus Hotel, it will be able to change locations and rise to the surface, taking between 15 minutes and 12 hours due to its variable speed controls. It is expected to cost up to $120 million dollars, and there hasn’t been a completion date announced. But when it’s ready, you will be able to go to the highest and lowest man-made structures in the world in one day – pretty cool.