Dubai is an interesting city, to say the least, that I will explore in regards to its UPE over the next few months. The city was founded so recently compared to other well-known cities, yet its youth has not stood in its way of being so globally known.
Dubai is a city situated on the coast of the United Arab Emirates in which the landmass consists of desert. Therefore, its landscape consisting of skyscrapers, concrete roads, green space and artificial islands is mostly manmade. It is important to note that the UAE is an authoritarian state in which political power is concentrated within one major entity. The massive investments that have aided the construction of this manmade landscape have been due to the immense oil and black gold industry which has been a driving force for the initial growth of the city. Tourism followed as it allowed for a further boost of the city’s success and continues to do so. A large number of prospects in the city has meant the population has grown considerably in which 85% of the population are expats and migrants. With such high urban sprawl and the additional pressure of having to accommodate tourists, the city has had to provide water in dry desert conditions. The main supply of water here is through water desalination which acts as a climate-resistant method using a somewhat infinite resource of seawater. It has also made efforts to be sustainable through carbon net-zero emissions, green space and clean air.
Seemingly Dubai prides itself in being an attractive and increasingly sustainable city, although the city has been said to have a ‘dark side’. The construction of the city has been deemed an ‘ecocide’ as it relies on overfishing, significant land degradation, poor air quality and energy-intensive water extraction methods. On top of this, while the affluent can invest in and enjoy the city, the city was built on the backs of ‘modern-day slaves’. These people are typically impoverished Indians, Bengalis and Filipinos who seek work opportunities and make up 75% of the total migrant population mentioned before. Their work is exploitative, unsanitary and encompasses many human rights violations, consequently highlighting extreme inequalities in the city.
Hence, the city has been deemed ‘a twisted parody of everything that is wrong with the 21st century’ as this dystopian desert city has been oddly constructed to benefit the affluent, with little consideration for the environment and the underprivileged.
I would like to draw on the quote by David Harvey ‘There is nothing unnatural about New York city’. This way of thinking encompasses exactly what UPE discovers and Dubai fits into – cities and the human activities within them are not separate from the traditional idea of wilderness. Instead, cities and nature are inextricably linked within the urbanisation. And so, there is also nothing unnatural about the produced urban environments and the metabolic flows that maintain them that inevitably create social inequalities and unevenness within a city.
And so, having introduced some of the flows present in this city, join me on this journey of uncovering the UPE of Dubai by considering the social, ecological, and political metabolic flows that create this contentious and unequal city landscape.