December 2006

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Dubai Tour

RealComm Advisory
Dubai Tour
Vol. 5 No. 47

Dubai - The Largest Development Project in the World!

As we prepared to return home after a weeklong study tour in Dubai, Realcomm NextGen Tour delegates were asked to share their thoughts on the trip and how they were planning to describe what they had seen to their friends, family and business associates back home. Aside from their favorite projects or biggest concerns, almost every delegate agreed that describing the scope, scale and speed of development in Dubai would be almost impossible -- it is truly something one must see firsthand to believe!

As the plane neared Dubai International Airport, our delegates were tired from the long trip but anxious to experience this extraordinary city. With so many stories of rampant growth and extreme projects, no one knew quite what to expect. There was some anxiety, due in large part to the constant news stories of violence in the Middle East, but everyone relaxed when we arrived at one of the most sophisticated airports in the world. In fact, Dubai International Airport ranked 9th in the World Airport Awards (not one US airport ranked in the top 10). This airport has achieved a pretty amazing growth rate in the last 10 years. In 1995, it greeted just over 7 million passengers, while in 2005 the number more than tripled to over 24 million passengers (Dubai International Facts & Figures).

The first day of the Dubai NextGen trip involved orientation meetings by the Dubai Tourism Board and other business organizations, including Du, the new telecommunications player in the region. The rest of the day was spent on a driving tour to provide delegates with an overall sense of the layout of the city. For those that had visited Dubai before, it was quickly apparent that there were fewer cranes in the sky. Instead, those cranes in one short year had turned into mammoth Commercial Real Estate projects.

Over the next 4 days, the list of projects we visited continued to grow. Burj Dubai, the tallest condominium tower in the world; the Dubai Mall, soon to be the largest mall in the world; Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort in the middle of the desert; the Burj al Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world; the Palm Islands, towers and homes built on a man-made island the shape of a palm tree; The World, a series of private islands in the shape of the world; DubaiLand, an entertainment complex that is 2.5 time larger than Disneyworld in Orlando - the list goes on and on! The degree of architectural innovation witnessed in this short trip rivaled any other place on the globe. These projects represent concepts never before attempted (a palm tree shaped island), and are attracting international attention. Not only are they being noticed, but the amount of capital investing in the region is unprecedented for an area this size.

There is also a great deal of technological innovation present in the region. The luxury condominiums that are being built in the Burj Dubai will have state-of-the-art home automation systems that do everything from open the drapes to order lunch from restaurants in the building. During a presentation at Festival City, we heard how one Building Operations Center (BOC) will serve as the hub for the building automation requirements in this 180-building project, as well as the central point for management of public utilities, traffic and safety systems. Their goal is to run all of these traditionally disparate systems over one standard IP network. Technology was also present at the airport, where free wireless was available (wireless access is not uncommon in the United States but it's seldom free). Another subtle yet significant presence of innovative technology was found in restaurants, where servers arrived at your table with a small wireless device ready to take our order. Before they even left the table, your drink order was placed and on its way.

Despite the grandiose projects and 22nd century vision, it became apparent after a few days of visiting these extraordinary projects that the region was in for some real challenges. Given that no city has ever been built at this speed, one wonders how they will avoid real disasters. The first big issue is that of master planning. From the street, it seems that these large-scale projects were planned in a vacuum, not taking all of the other mega projects into consideration. The direct result of this lack of large scale planning was apparent in the traffic situation -- the city is experiencing gridlock at 25% build out. Everyone on the tour wondered what would happen when all the tenants arrived. The third major concern was density. While these projects all looked great when viewed as models or renderings, the actual quality of construction was less than expected and the units (especially residential) were actually built much closer to the lot lines than represented in the sales models. One major, high-density project stacked next to a similar large-scale development could result in some real problems.

One thing felt consistently across the study group was that Dubai would definitely be a place to watch over the years. It could turn out to be a premiere case study - one to be studied for years by organizations such as ULI, Harvard and others. A development scenario of this magnitude has never been witnessed anywhere in the contemporary world. Even China, with its unprecedented growth, has no region the size of Dubai that is experiencing development at the same speed, density, scope and scale. When asked to describe Dubai, Whit Peyton, the Director of the Minneapolis Office for CB Richard Ellis, just shook his head, rolled his eyes, stretched the air with his hands and made a strange sound. In other words, it cannot be described with words or, for that matter, pictures. Everyone in the group agreed, the only way to truly understand the scope of what is happening in Dubai is to visit, there is simply no other way!

For those readers not ready for the 14-20 hour trip to get there, we have prepared the following list of links for the projects we either visited or discussed. Enjoy!

Burj Dubai - The Tower

Burj Dubai - Downtown

Burj Dubai - Old Town

Burj Dubai - Dubai Mall

Burj Al Arab

Ski Dubai

Dubai Healthcare City

Dubai Festival City


The Palm

The World Islands

Dubai Waterfront


Mall of the Emirates

Dubai Internet City

Dubai Media City

Jumeirah Beach Residences

Dubai International Finance Center

Dubai Silicon Oasis


Dubai Knowledge Village

Ibn Battuta Mall

Arabian Ranches

Princess Tower

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For more events in Dubai see BuilConn in Middle East in Dubai and Riyadh


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