Construction Week Newsletter 15th January 2005

I remember the days in Dubai when it used to take about 15 minutes to get anywhere in the city, including to Jebel Ali. And, that was when the two-lane service road that runs parallel to Sheikh Zayed Road and on to Safa Park was the highway.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  January 15, 2005

Editorial Leader|~||~||~|

Keeping pace with development

I remember the days in Dubai when it used to take about 15 minutes to get anywhere in the city, including to Jebel Ali. And, that was when the two-lane service road that runs parallel to Sheikh Zayed Road and on to Safa Park was the highway. From the simple Dubai World Trade Centre Roundabout, one could only see the Trade Centre Apartments, the former Dadabhai Toys building and then an empty stretch right up to the cluster around Habitat building. Beyond the sand-filled Defence roundabout was the Toyota Building and Safeway (later Safestway). Not even Safa Park was around. If an event was to be held at Chicago Beach Hotel (later Jumeirah Beach Hotel), all of us who had to attend would feel a residual resentment against the organisers for hosting a function ‘that far away.’ If I had to go to Jebel Ali Free Zone to attend a function, I would ring up and set up press interviews with as many people as I could, so I did not need to go there again for a month. How come, now that Sheikh Zayed Road has been upgraded and widened, it takes me three times the time to get to Jebel Ali? The difference between the Dubai of then and now is mind-boggling. Then, the distances seemed great. Nowadays, I do the run to and from Jebel Ali, sometimes, twice a day and complain about the traffic. In those days, I could zip along freely (at legal speed, of course). The surprising part is that the Dubai I am describing was not ages back. I am talking about the early nineties, just about a decade ago. Ten years in the life of a city is nothing if one looks at the European capitals or a city like Damascus that is said to be the oldest living city in history. The situation is not very much different in other cities of the Gulf. They too are booming, perhaps even bursting like Dubai is. Sea is being reclaimed and deserts are being encroached upon. The rapidly growing population, higher oil incomes, growth of economies and large availability of cash seems to be driving the construction boom. Saudi Arabia alone is estimated to need 1.5 million more housing units over the next few years. The region has responded with a building boom the likes of which was last witnessed several decades ago when oil was commercially exploited and governments built cities out of the sands. The difference this time around is that it is the government that has to do the catching up. Use the roads of Dubai and one gets the feeling that the municipal authorities are not able to cope with the demand. They have widened Sheikh Zayed Road to a massive 10-lane highway at certain points. They have built flyovers, broken them down, built bigger ones and now plan to break them down all over again and build even more futuristic overpasses. The parallel Al Khail Road has been built and driving along Emirates Road is now commonplace. Work on the Metro is chugging along. The aim is to reduce the number of cars on the roads from one per five persons to one per nine persons. But it still takes me 45 minutes to get to Jebel Ali. Another important point is that the construction boom this time around is more upwards than outwards. For example, in Dubai Marina, some 50 000 people are going to live in apartment towers. Next door, at Jumeirah Beach Residence, another 30 000 people are to be resident. This is not counting the 25 000 people who work at Dubai Internet and Media Cities and Knowledge Village and all the guests and service staff at the beach resorts that run along that strip. It is also not counting the people who will live on Palm Jumeirah and those who will service them. When you have 100 000 people (at a conservative estimate) living and working in vertical constructions in a tiny area, but traveling horizontally by road, you will have traffic jams. Here is where the planners will have to come in. We are aware that Dubai Municipality is building a flyover to nearby Sheikh Zayed Road and that the Dubai Metro will pass through the area, but will that be enough? Unlike the first building boom, city planners, this time around, need to not only keep pace with, but outpace, private sector developers to ensure the comfort and convenience of residents and visitors in the cities of the Gulf. Being new, cities in the Gulf do not have historical civic infrastructure bottlenecks. They can build efficient and modern cities that are the pride of the region and envy of the world.||**||

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