The World - Dubai
I have never been to Dubai but a quick glance at the map tells me that its is small, dry and built up. If you want to buy good land for development, it will cost you a lot. So a major property company with links to the rulers, 'Nakheel’, came up with the brilliant wheeze of inventing new land by dumping lots of sand on the sea bed, just off the coast, to create artificial islands for new housing, hotels and whatnot.
Bonkers? Well, this is the place that also gives us undersea hotels, water-cars, camel-riding robots, hydroflying books and police in Lamborghinis.
It took enough sand to fill over 150 major sports stadia to create 300 islands, representing almost every country on the globe and arranged to look like a world map. The only one missing was Israel. This is Dubai after all.
Nakheel had tried this trick before. The oldest and best known scheme is Palm Jumeirah, which seen from the air looks like a palm tree sticking into the sea, with housing built on each of its ‘fronds’. To that extent at least, the scheme was a success.
Even so, the new scheme was no small challenge. As it turned out the moneybanks didn’t fancy funding sandbanks, so Nakheel had to shoulder the initial costs themselves. Luckily, the company is state-backed and the scheme is the brainchild of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum AKA the Ruler of Dubai. I don’t know the financial mechanics but would wager that the idea was to quickly sell some of the islands to other developers, in order to offset the initial costs. Those would be considerable but, after all, the sea bed cost nothing.
Things kicked off in 2003 but stuttered as the financial crisis took hold. For a long time, very little happened. Then, once the economics improved, things got surreal.
|...progress was slow...
Six islands have become ‘The Heart of Europe’. Where do you fancy? Monaco, Venice, Russia, Sweden or Germany perhaps? All of these are apparently linked by bridges to the main island of Europe, forming the world’s largest Aquarium holding all of those corals and tropical fish that are so common in Switzerland.
|The 'vision' of The Heart of Europe
|The Reality isn't quite so enticing!
Or perhaps somewhere less obvious? Sultan bin Sulayem, the ex-Chairman of Nakheel, has his own pad on ‘Greenland’. Then there is ‘Island Michael Schumacher’, gifted to him by the Crown Prince together with the necessary glass mansion, helipad and harbour and set on Antarctica. All this in the Persian Gulf where in summer temperatures frequently exceed 43c / 110f and rainfall is virtually non-existent.
A supposedly Swedish and Viking themed development seems to partly consist of houses with upturned boats for roofs. In this case, the developer recognised that the Gulf and Europe don’t always sing in tune, so they arranged for some snow and rain to be provided as part of the “only outdoor climate controlled areas in the world”.
|Where the Vikings stored their Longships.
The most recent is a ‘Maldives’ style hotel built on the pile of sand representing Argentina amid 5000 imported palm trees.
Britain is there of course and they found a willing idiot in Richard Branson, and a red phone box, to promote it. To no avail.
The problem is that the number of actual development schemes is still limited and the state of this British outpost is more typical of the progress of development on the very many remaining islands.
As I understand it, Asia, Africa and Australia are uninhabited. Someone needs to let them know. But in the meantime, if you want to buy an island, there seem to be plenty available.
You might think that this is just a piece of hyper-capitalist lunacy. But it is so much more than that! Can you imagine actually living there? It is completely ersatz, the metaverse brought to life. The simulacra of Baudrillard and the spectacle of Guy Debord. Do you recall 'The Truman Show' in which poor Truman was under the illusion that he was living in a real and picture perfect community, only to be rudely disabused when it turned out that he was actually the unknowing object of a TV Reality show?
You may ask how the sand banks will survive the ultimate case of rising damp as sea levels rise. Or whether the sand islands will assist the process by sinking of their own accord, under the weight of new building and afflicted by tides and winds. It has been suggested that they already are. We all learnt as kids that sandcastles don't last long!
Then there is the small matter of utilities. Put simply, how do you get power in and shit out. That power might need to be used for cooling; research predicts that by 2000 the Gulf will experience heatwaves beyond the limits of human endurance. There are answers, but none come cheap and all this is happening in a place where the carbon emissions are already scary.
Undeterred, the developers are planning a follow up. ‘The Universe’. Anyone for an apartment on Pluto?
Not content with my own future-gazing, and in keeping with the Zeitgeist, I asked ChatGPT for a description in the style of J.G.Ballard, of Palm Jumeirah, where development is much further advanced but the environmental challenges are presumably similar. The scrapings from the online pond follow. To me, they fail to capture the bleakness and anonymity of Ballard's vision in novels like Super-Cannes. But maybe that is appropriate and we should see Palm Jumeirah as a physical metaphor for the lack of human creativity and colour in ChatGPT style AI offerings?
"As the sun sets over the Arabian Gulf, the Palm Jumeirah emerges like a glittering mirage from the water's edge. This man-made archipelago, with its sinuous curves and sculpted beaches, is a monument to the audacity of human ambition.
From afar, (it) resembles a colossal gemstone, set adrift in the shimmering waters of the Gulf. But up close, its scale is dizzying. Towering residential buildings, their facades clad in glass and steel, jostle for space alongside luxury hotels and beachfront villas. The island's spine is a vast tree-lined boulevard, flanked by designer boutiques and exclusive restaurants, where the wealthy and powerful come to see and be seen. But beyond this glittering façade lies a darker reality.
For all its opulence, (it) sterile, artificial world, devoid of the organic messiness of real life. Its manicured lawns and pristine beaches are as carefully curated as a movie set, while its inhabitants move in a constant state of guarded isolation, cocooned in their luxury cocoons.
But like all human creations, (it) is not immune to the ravages of time and nature. As the sea levels rise and the climate grows more erratic, this once-miraculous island may yet be reclaimed by the ocean, swallowed up by the very waters that gave it life".