Arriving in Dubai was always going to be a bit of a cultural shock for a South London boy, glass, steel, concrete and swooping 6 lane highways darting in and out of sky scrapers, it reminded me of a 1950’s Expo I saw as a child from the USA, all super highways and shimmering monuments to the modernist dream of utopia.
A book from school with all the images of post war modernism was the start of my interest in Architecture and Urban Design (that ultimately led me to Landscape Architecture), even though at 8 years old I would of hardly used these terms. The 60/70s were all about the ‘future’ out with old in with the new (with many old country houses getting destroyed before the Heritage movement started to save some of the old relics from the demolition ball).
A retro-fitted metro system has been built. It’s very clean and efficient. Cycle paths are starting to appear, but as training routes for enthusiastic rather than a connected transport alternative. There’s a long way to go, but retro-fitting does not seem to an issue.
A Dodge Challenger. Cheap fuel means the gas guzzling V8 is an option……though a VW Caddy van will probably win the day for me unless ‘ the 8 year old ’ has his way.
So with my Landscape Architect head on, what went wrong? Well we all design in the given wisdom of our age which often leads to shortsightedness as to the consequences. In Europe the horse and cart determined the infrastructure until the advent of the motor car and tarmacadam. Motorways were an addition rather than a starting point. Right of way laws prohibited many of the smaller roads from being destroyed, thus leading to an infrastructure that caters for the pedestrian and cyclist with bridges and tunnels for crossing the motorways. All unforeseen consequences, but in this case it turns out for the good.
In Dubai, the motorway came first and this has led to large areas becoming islands where the only way out is by car. Leading to most of the garden maintenance workforce (who rely on the bicycle for their only form of transport) to ride on these giant 6 lane highways. Retro-fitting is now underway, and that is what is good about the city and its system of governance. Decisions are made and acted upon quickly so a lot of the catching up is underway.
The ‘Dubai Stone’
The often quoted phrase is ‘the Dubai stone’ (a reference to everyone who arrives here puts a stone on in weight) an issue that the Government is taking seriously with a drive to get everyone doing some kind of exercise. This is starting to have an effect on the ruler ship of the car in city planning, In many cities in Europe the car is not the automatic choice for primary transport. After University I spent 3 years without a Van, public transport and the bike being my only forms of transport, very easy to do in London because of the good infrastructure. So still getting used to the life as an ex-pat (immigrant) and ways of this emerging city and trying not to break too many laws along the way!
Al Qudra cycle track ( 150km and growing) to solve the Dubai Stone? Though, it can get very hot and windy during the summer months.
If it all gets too much then there is the Beach, which always seems to put things back into perspective……..