In Dubai, it is definitely a vision thing. The leadership may not know in the early stages how it is that they will get to where they want to go, but they do have a clear image of what they expect the future to look like. This has been a driving force in Dubai since the establishment of its first major port in the early 1970s.
One need have no illusions that change in Dubai happens in but one direction, from the top down. The leaders, once inspired by a vision, authorize its implementation. They are less concerned with the how, than with the simple determination that the plan move forward. As a result, things happen fast.
Whereas vision entails the ability to see into the future, imagination involves shaping and constructing that future in original and creative ways. Thus, the vision of Dubai is characterized by imaginative projects like the Burj Dubai (world's tallest tower), the Palm and World islands, a variety of specialized zones like Dubai Media City, Healthcare City, Dubaiworld, and so on.
Some of what is taking place in Dubai today, though groundbreaking in many ways, is in other ways old hat. That is, Dubai has been at this game of taking a seed and growing it into a successful venture for some time. The pattern is of one success leading to another.
Jebel Ali Freezone, for example, was pioneered in the mid-1980s. Its successful development has become a model for other freezones, which once successful have led to the establishment of still more freezones.
As such, a plan for development is devised and implemented; if it works, it is then replicated.
- Financial Resources
Oil--this single word would almost say it all, except that it has not been that simple. With limited oil supplies Dubai has developed its economy more through trade and tourism. Oil money today--not Dubai's but its neighbors--is pouring into to its grand development projects. To its credit, Dubai has been able to siphon these funds away from potential investments further a field.
- Political Stability
A small well-looked after national populace and a large expatriate population, whose residency depends on the good graces of the government, has meant that Dubai and the UAE have been able to avoid any significant incidents of dissent. The absolute, yet benevolent rule of the government has allowed the economy to flourish unhindered.
Militarily, and within the geo-political sphere, the government has successfully nurtured a discreet partnership with Western powers. There is no evidence of the religious or political upheaval found in other countries in the region.
- Open Space
Though small in area, about 4000 km2 and less than half the size of Los Angeles county, Dubai consists primarily of a square-shaped, flat, sandy desert plain with one side bordering the Arabian Gulf. The city had traditionally occupied but a small strip of coastal land until recent developments began, which will more than triple the city's size beyond what it was in the year 2000. Even so, much of the desert plain will remain unsettled.
- Water Assets
No typo here, Dubai has engendered ways to exploit its water resources to the fullest. These consist primarily of a 60 km coastline on the Arabian Gulf and a 14 km natural sea-inlet known as the Creek. Offshore and coastal developments such as the Palm islands will create over 1000 km of new coastal land. Inland, the Creek will be extended and other waterways will be newly built from the coast to allow for the development of riverside properties. Lake communities, springs, bays and other water developments are being constructed throughout the new city.
- Unlimited Labor Pool
More than anything else Dubai, the UAE and most of the Arabian Gulf countries have been magnets for expatriate labor. Today new Dubai is being built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of laborers from the Indian sub-continent. The labor pool covers the gamut from unskilled to the highest trained professionals. In a country (the UAE) with a native population today of only 800,000, there is no shortage of workers, who outnumber the native population by 3-4 times.
Though a small segment of the labor pool may be recruited through high salaries and other incentives, wages in the country are low to such an extent that industries with high manpower requirements, like construction, enjoy a competitive advantage.
- Cultural Diversity
A largely untapped resource within the emirate is its multi-cultural composition. Over 100 nationalities are represented with over a dozen languages commonly spoken. This richness has yet to be fully exploited but offers great potential in terms of tourism, media and publication opportunities, education, the arts, entertainment, etc. The Dubai Shopping Festival initiated one of the first attempts to commercialize this multi-cultural dimension in its Global Village.
The population of Dubai is so adaptable to change that change represents normality. While some lament the passing of quieter times, it is an openess to the outside world that has allowed Dubai and the UAE to prosper. It is the adaptability of both the national and expatriate segments of the population that allow the country and especially Dubai to explore new frontiers in terms of development. Although some fear that traditional heritage may not survive, all of society is being transformed and most are finding ways to prosper with it.
This is one characteristic shared by most in the UAE, whether ruler, native citizen or expatriate. People will do what they have to do to acheive their goals or manage through hard times. Expatriate bachelors with fortitude crowd into apartments turned into hovels. The Bedouin (traditional nomads) settle into homes and communities. The rulers open their country to a flood of outside influence.
Does it mean a compromise of one's identity and principles? Perhaps, but it is also a means to acheive one's goals. This, I believe, is an important part of the success of Dubai in transforming itself into the dynamic international hub that it has become.
Open a printable copy, in a new window.
A Word A Day's Issues, the UAE, Geo-politics and the Superlative.
Wikipedia Dubai entry.
UAE map with Dubai.
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