November 21st, 2017

Dubaiite frustrated!23

Me and my big mouth. For decades, the people of this oil rich country have enjoyed low fuel prices, and the six and eight cylinder auto-mammoths that become but a logical option due to those prices. Then I had to go and spoil it for everyone. I had to declare fuel was cheap here, and someone was listening. Now the government has rectified that anomaly in the general scheme of things. The petrol just got dearer by 30% yesterday.

This can have grave implications in a country, where retailers and their suppliers increased the prices of goods across the board when the Government had announced a 15% increase in the salaries of public servants, so the poor sods could come to terms with rising cost of living; and not just any retailers, it was the Co-Operatives which are supposed to cater to the consumers’ shrinking wallets. What was even more amusing was the fact that this hike was effected right after the announcement of the salary-increase, not after the actual salary increase. Finally, the Government had to step in, and give the greedy rascals a rap on their knuckles. Cost-push inflation is but an economic phenomenon, it will be interesting to see how the retailers respond to this new development. It is generally, and rather less sarcastically than it should be, assumed that the landlords and real estate agents will find an excuse in this fuel-price hike to hike up the rents for the umpteenth time.

The only thing cheap in this country now is labor, which ironically is the one commodity that should not be cheap anyway, and especially not so in Dubai which is ranked higher than Washington D.C and Toronto on the list of the most-expensive, and hence the least desirable to live in, cities of the world. Increasingly, it is becoming a less desirable place to live in for the middle class. It costs an average of USD 1800 per month to rent out a two bedroom apartment in Dubai, which is (un)reasonably higher than the average cost of renting an apartment in more developed and high profile cities like Washington D.C and Toronto*. There are some who take this to be a sign of things to come, and a mark of how prestigious a city Dubai has become. Anyone who thinks Dubai is more prestigious and developed than the capital of the reigning super power is obviously living in a fool’s paradise. The only thing this twisted equation points to is flawed planning, and greedier real estate agents. The yardstick for the prestige and development of a city should be the satisfaction levels of its inhabitants, their lifestyles, and a growing middle class segment.

Just the other day, I was visiting a friend who lives on the 27th floor of a high rise tower in the upmarket Dubai Marina ‘enclave’. I stepped out into their balcony, and was mesmerized by the construction work underway at the site of one of the world famous Palm Projects. For those who have been blissfully spared the media frenzy surrounding these projects, the Palm Projects, and there were three of those until the last count, are huge palm shaped residential schemes for the welathiest of the world. The distinguishing thing about these palm shaped schemes is that the “palm” will be completely reclaimed land, protuding out into the sea. The “palms” will be visible from Neptune and Pluto, and aliens from other galaxies will also be able to see them on clear days. A fraction of the amount spent on these projects, if funnelled into constructing residential areas on the sprawling deserts of the country could have easily curbed the menace of rising rents. Ironically, one gets to see that sprawling desert in the other direction from the same point.

This brings me to another aspect of this developing- like- crazy-city that baffles me. Not a day goes by when we the residents of the twin cities of Dubai and Sharjah do not have to grapple with the tiring and frustrating traffic jams here. Part of the problem lies in the fact that when going to work all traffic is headed to the few pockets of high rises which house bulk of the commercial activity, and understandably the same traffic is headed out of these pockets at close of day.

I am no city planner, but tell me this, why do we have high rises? So that we can make optimum use of scarce space, right? Well, someone should get a bird’s eye view of this city, THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF SPACE HERE! There are miles and miles of desert just waiting to be converted into commercial or residential areas. But, skyscrapers we must have, so Dubai can rank amongst the cities of the world that have what the newspapers here refer to as “a skyline”. One of my ex-employers, a Japanese gentlman, used to wonder about the speed with which new towers, buildings and other structures are constructed here. He was quite sure that similar construction projects would take thrice the time to construct in Japan. Again there would be some who would find reason to celebrate the ‘efficiencies’ of Dubai in this statement. What they do not realize is that Japan survived an earthquake last month measuring to the north of 5.0 on the Richter Scale with zero casualties, while a similar seismic phenomenon would leave tens of thousands dead, and losses estimated at upwards of USD 50 billion in this efficient little place…

Coming back to the traffic jams, if you had offices sprawling over a large area, you would not have all these people headed the same way in the mornings, or headed out of the same places in the evenings. There would be lesser, if any, traffic jams. The only thing required to achieve this simplistic solution would be a braoder infrastructure, which is not a cost this rich country cannot bear. Understandably, spreading the commercial activity will require more commuting between offices for salespeople like me, but hey fuel is still cheaper in this part of the world than it is in the rest of the world. Granted with the passage of time, the country will have to resort to sky scrapers, since it is not bestowed with unlimited space, but hey, why experience the agony of a space cramped city decades before it becomes space cramped. Plus, a broader base of infrastructure will only prepare the country better for such growth when the real need for space optimization arises.

I have no pretensions of being a planner, but if I can think of these solutions, surely people trained and qualified to plan cities can think more creatively than they are doing presently.

The people of this blessed country deserve to feel blessed living in it. Practicality, not exhibitionism, will help ensure that feeling.

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