Superlatives can no longer describe Dubai – there are simply too many. It is now the fastest growing city in the world with $300 billion of construction underway. Once Dubai was a sleepy Arab port nestled between its larger and more famous oil rich neighbors: Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Now tiny Dubai is home to the “world’s tallest building,” and more construction cranes than China and its 1.4 billion people. What is more amazing is that Dubai has a population of just 200,000 native Emirates within a land area one-half the size of Orange County, California. If you count all the workers, the city has a population of 1.8 million.
It all started with the Burj Al Arab, the “world’s first 7-star hotel,” rising more than 50 floors above the Persian Gulf. Its unique sail shape makes it instantly recognizable. The Burj Al Arab has grown into iconic stature, like the Eiffel Tower.
The Burj Dubai, the “world’s tallest building,” has passed 165 floors and no one except the Absolute Ruler of Dubai knows the final height. The Burj Dubai is 100 percent sold out. It will contain the world’s first Armani Hotel, and the world’s most expensive offices. Its competitor, Al Burj, a few miles down the road at the Dubai Waterfront, is reported to be 200 floors but they will not commit until Burj Dubai stops its reach for the sky.
Shoppers can choose from the Mall of the Emirates, the “world’s first shopping mall with an indoor ski slope,” or the Dubai Mall, the “world’s largest shopping mall” at 10 million square feet. It will not reign long as the world’s largest – the Mall of Arabia will be 12 million square feet. The Mall of Arabia will be located at Dubai Land in the “world’s largest amusement park” – three times the size of Disneyworld. These Dubai malls will later be dwarfed by the Bawadi District with 60,000 hotel rooms and 40 million square feet of retail in what will surely be the “world’s largest shopping mall.”
The products displayed in these malls will pass through the Port of Jebel Ali, the “world’s largest man-made port,” and 8th busiest container part in the world. Jebel Ali is one of three man-made structures that can be seen from outer space – the Hoover Dam and the Great Wall of China being the others.
Shoppers will arrive at DXB, Dubai’s brand new airport built to accommodate 120 million passengers annually. DXB will become the “world’s busiest airport,” easily surpassing Atlanta Hartsfield, which accommodated 72 million passengers last year.
New residents of Dubai have already moved into Dubai Marina, the “world’s largest marina,” even larger than Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles. Dubai Marina will be home to 200 residential towers each more than 40 floors with six towers of more than 90 stories. The Princess Tower at 107 stories is the “world’s tallest residential tower,” but the Pentominium, at 120 floors, will become “the world’s tallest residential tower,” next year. Its neighbor, Infinity Tower, at just 80 floors, will be the “world's tallest tower featuring a 90-degree twist.”
Dubai has the “world’s largest man-made residential islands” with four of them. Palm Jumeirah, the first of the Palm-shaped trilogy is three-by-five miles. It sold 4,000 residences along 17 separate fronds in three days. Thirty-two hotels will line the trunk. At the crescent of Palm Jumeirah is Atlantis, a 2,000-room hotel. The 61-story Trump International Tower straddles the monorail that connects the Palm to the mainland. The penthouse recently sold for $30 million making it the “world’s most expensive penthouse.” The Queen Elizabeth 2 ocean liner was purchased by Sheikh Mohamed and will be docked at Palm Jumeirah.
Palm Jebel Ali is 50 percent larger than Palm Jumeirah and part of the Dubai Waterfront project that will house 1.7 million people upon completion in 2020. Jebel Ali will be larger than Paris at seven-by-five miles. Besides 8,000 residences and fifty hotels, homes will be built on stilts with a boardwalk that circles the fronds and spells out a poem written by Sheikh Mohamed that reads:
It takes a man of vision to write on water
Not everyone who rides a horse is a jockey
Great men rise to greater challenges
Palm Deira, largest of the Palm trilogy, will become the “world’s largest man-made island,” larger than New York's Manhattan, bigger than central Paris and almost as big as Greater London. Palm Deira will house one million residents. The 42 fronds will be twice as large as its sister Palm islands at nine-by-five miles. Palm Deira will be connected to the mainland by a Central Island that will become the commercial center of the community on the north end of Dubai.
The fourth offshore mega-project is The World, a collection of 300 islands intended to look like the world from outer space. The project stretches five-by-three miles and is surrounded by an oval breakwater to protect the individual islands from Persian Gulf storms and waves. The ambitious 300-island project will cost $14 billion when completed. Individual islands will sell from $15 million to $250 million. To date, more than half have been sold but that may be deceiving as only half have been offered for sale.
If these superlatives were not enough, Dubai is building a business center to rival New York City’s Manhattan, London’s City or Tokyo’s Ginza Strip . Business Bay will wrap around the Burj Dubai and contain 230 high-rise office towers, each 40 floors or more. All 230 office towers are sold. The Burl Al Alam will be the “world’s tallest commercial tower” at 108 floors of mixed-use apartments, office and hotel. When completed this business center will contain 64 million square feet of office space. Halliburton and Baker-Hughes have already announced that Dubai will become their world headquarters.
Easily lost in the superlative is the size of Dubai. It is only one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. It is not an oil rich nation like its neighbor. Abu Dhabi that owns 94 percent of the oil in the UAE. Dubai’s oil will run out in 2016. Sheikh Mohamed, Emir and Absolute Ruler of Dubai, steered Dubai onto a course of development predicting the rise in oil prices that would bring a gusher of oil money into the Persian Gulf. Each day the nations that surround the Persian Gulf pump 20 million barrels of oil to a thirsty world. At $140/barrel, they earn $2.8 billion per day, $19.6 billion per week, $84 billion per month and $1 trillion per year.
Dubai correctly anticipated the staggering transfer of wealth to the Arab oil producing states and like a smart business man, geared up to provide plenty of product for his wealthy clientele. With $300 billion of projects under development and one-third of the world’s cranes, Dubai has become the “fastest growing city in the world,” – yet another superlative that hardly tells the story. It is a story of a city about to become a player on a global scale – and one that the established great urban regions will have to take seriously in the years to come.
Robert J. Cristiano Ph.D. has more than 25 years experience in real estate development in Southern California. He obtained financing from the Middle East following the collapse of the savings & loan industry in the early 90s and has become an expert on that region. He is a resident of Newport Beach, CA.