In Dubai, Form Rules Over Function

Traffic along the Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s principal highway, is soon to be diverted close to one of its most critical choking points, downtown ...

Traffic along the Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai’s principal highway, is soon to be diverted close to one of its most critical choking points, downtown Dubai. The rationale behind this inconvenience, the intensity of which cannot be exaggerated, is the extension of Business Bay, itself an extension of the Dubai Creek, through Safa Park and Jumeirah where it will eventually connect with the Persian Gulf, turning a considerable portion of downtown Dubai into an island. The empirical benefits of this colossal undertaking remain somewhat ambiguous to most Dubai residents. Most news sources claim that this project will help Dubai to accommodate its exploding tourist demand, though aesthetic reasons are often cited as well. Whilst I agree that proactivity has in the past allowed Dubai to avoid the congestion which burdens other major tourist destinations, even the least critical observer will attest to the utter superfluity of the creek extension, seeing as Dubai has done more than enough to meet growing demand in retail, dining, and hospitality.
Whilst grandiose, marginally utile and outright disruptive projects such as the creek extension, amongst others, have been prioritised on the infrastructural agenda of Gulf States, other projects, which I think are more urgent, have been relegated to the categories of the hypothetical and the eventual. Across the creek in Sharjah lies one of the UAE’s greatest infrastructural challenges. The commute between the two emirates is avoided by most of us who have the luxury to do so but unfortunately for many, high living costs in Dubai have forced many professionals to live in the neighbouring emirate. During rush hours, road congestion in Sharjah consumes much of what is left of the middle class’s scarce free time. They are, of course, luckier than the working classes which have to make do with inefficient bus transport.
Unfortunately for the residents of Sharjah, whose average income is substantially lower than that of their counterparts across the creek in Dubai, plans for the extension of the Dubai metro do not include Sharjah. In fact, Sharjah is treated as a discrete entity, though its separateness is more of an administrative fact than one which is manifested in the observable patterns of urbanization. Additionally, the national railway corporation, Etihad Rail, has decided to complete a freight line running from Ruwais, a town in the west of the Abu Dhabi emirate, to a remote location in the Southern Abu Dhabi desert, close to the Saudi Arabia border, whilst relegating the desperately needed passenger line between Dubai and Abu Dhabi to the second stage. Perhaps this move could be justified as a means to connect the UAE’s rail network to the Saudi railways. However, only a small margin of optimism is left when considering the recent news that the regional network will be delayed by another year, probably a conservative estimate, and the reality that none of the other Gulf Cooperation Council states seem to be on track with their infrastructural contribution to the GCC grid.
This is not to say that there is no value to the auspicious and opulent tourist attractions which have been constructed in the past. It appears that projects including the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall and the Palm Jumeirah have gone a long way towards establishing Dubai as a global tourism hub. However, I find that the singular most compelling force behind Dubai’s ascent to its current status as one of the most visited cities worldwide and as a popular location for international events is the emirate’s excellent infrastructure. Indeed, the Dubai metro and other projects, have revolutionized Dubai’s urban lifestyle, allowing for a level of efficiency and mobility which would have otherwise been unimaginable. Moreover, I find that it is somewhat superfluous to continue building impressive projects which only have an aesthetic function, seeing that clearly more than enough have already been built, when our incredibly utile infrastructure in itself is a marvel of modernity which sets tourists in awe.
The elaboration and improvement of our national infrastructure is the safest and most sustainable route towards less dependence on resources. The UAE’s investment in logistics and infrastructure has been a massive success in the past and efforts to foster this competitive advantage must be prioritized in the national agenda.
Ashraf Abdel Rahman is a columnist. Email him at
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