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Dubai: The World in Peril
October 2, 2009 2:54 PM   Subscribe

The pitch was extravagent: a man-made archipelago of 300 islands constructed to approximate the land masses of Earth, located 4 kilometers off the coast of Dubai. Claim part of The World for your own, or as an investment. Angelina Jolie And Brad Pitt bought Ethiopia, Tommy Lee bought Greece for ex-wife Pamela Anderson, David Beckham and Rod Stewart were each rumored to have bought an island, joining other celebrities who had purchased part of The World. The environmental impact of World-creation was raised, and Sir Richard Branson warned that the islands would be submerged in 50 years if global governments did not address climate change. The warning in 2007 did not dissuade the developers, and the final rock was placed in the breakwater in January 2008. The end of The World has not been brought about by rising tides, but financial woes have put the development on long-term hold, potentially ending the project.

The World is not the only mega-development in trouble. The Times Online article stated that "about $300 billion of building is on hold after prices began tumbling," and Maktoob Business cited other research stating that "UAE's construction sector has been hardest hit by the downturn in the Gulf Arab region, with more than 500 projects on hold or canceled."
posted by filthy light thief (47 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The World, previously.

Weird Michael Jackson tribute proposals: Jackson Island, Jackson Islands and King of Pop
posted by filthy light thief at 3:03 PM on October 2, 2009


I can't wait for Dubai to turn into a ghost town.
posted by Damn That Television at 3:04 PM on October 2, 2009 [10 favorites]


I can't wait for Dubai to turn into a ghost town.

In the desert, I hear they're called mirages.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:09 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a very well put-together post, but my first reaction upon reading the FPP is that it needs a "schadenfreude" tag. The hubris involved in building a mock-archipeligo of the world with a plan to sell it off piece-meal to the highest bidder, and the comedown of having the project fall apart for lack of funding? Karma can be bitch.
posted by mosk at 3:14 PM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess super-villains just can't get capital anymore.
posted by JoanArkham at 3:19 PM on October 2, 2009


"The World......Epic"
More like epic fail, amirite?

This seems like a real-life version of Jurassic Park, where just about everything was built but then there was a huge disaster, so it has to be abandoned and then there will just be empty buildings everywhere. I'm with you, Damn That Television, it'll be the coolest place for Urban Exploration ever.

But, really, who didn't see this coming? Every week I'd be hearing about the next big steel phallus they were building out there, and every time I'd hear about it I'd wonder how they expected to turn a profit. I kept hearing that Dubai was aiming to become a major cultural center and make money from real-estate and tourism, or something. I mean, it's great that they had a backup plan for when the oil went out, but a plan C would have been good.

Also, take a good look at Dubai from space, notice how there isn't much sprawl. It's like a city version of a cardboard cutout.
posted by hellojed at 3:23 PM on October 2, 2009


Sometimes it feels like God is actually hitting me with metaphors.

other times it feels like He's actually hitting me with rocks...
posted by nanojath at 3:32 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


I knew the whole project was suspicious when they said that The World would have 300 islands. There are fewer than 200 countries in the real world, so who would want a third of the ones for sale in Dubai?
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:39 PM on October 2, 2009


Idiocy abounds from start to finish in the tale of the meteoric rise of the ultrawealthy this past two decades. So many people made so much money so easily, and have not the foggiest idea its value, so they do stupid things like build ocean-level sand islands, and purchase ocean-level sand islands. Stupendously stupid, start to finish.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:52 PM on October 2, 2009 [7 favorites]


Poor Dubai, I hear a lot of slaves are out of work there.
posted by mullingitover at 3:54 PM on October 2, 2009 [3 favorites]


A b3ta user's experiences of working in Dubai. It sounds utterly abysmal, and I'm not surprised that extravagant plans like these fail.
posted by hnnrs at 4:06 PM on October 2, 2009 [10 favorites]


and have not the foggiest idea its value, so they do stupid things like build ocean-level sand islands, and purchase ocean-level sand islands. Stupendously stupid, start to finish.

Not if you pay in sand dollars.
posted by hal9k at 4:32 PM on October 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


I can sort of dig the idea behind it; it's like a real-life version of the continents of the different worlds in the ginormous sea on Ringworld. Then again, maybe throwing a big-ass chunk of your cash into a skiffy idea isn't so smart, as I found out to my dismay with the quantum-teleportation startup.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:41 PM on October 2, 2009


The one developed island: Google maps link
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:52 PM on October 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


hnnrs That guy's story...whoah. Already I didn't have a very good image of Dubai, but I'm still flabbergasted. What he says about the "tax-free" scam, and how this is more than compensated by the extortionate cost of a myriad necessary permits rings true. In my only professional dealing with the UAE so far, I had to have a document legalised at their consulate. The cost of this, for other countries, is usually negligeable, just a handful of cents. For the Emirates? A cool thousand US dollars. Not bad for a rubber stamp...
posted by Skeptic at 5:10 PM on October 2, 2009


I'm pretty sure the islands themselves are already there.

Dubai was ridiculous and it's good their economy was ridiculous.

A b3ta user's experiences of working in Dubai.

Similar to the article in This FPP
posted by delmoi at 5:23 PM on October 2, 2009


Good.
posted by Legomancer at 6:02 PM on October 2, 2009


With Halliburton moving to Dubai I won't be shocked to hear that the US taxpayer is going to bail out this project.

And housing must be saved.
In other words, the Federal Reserve alone bought $722 billion of mortgages and agency debt when only $686 billion in new mortgages were issued. So, through August, the Fed bought more than 100% of the entire supply of new (purchase) mortgages in 2009.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:10 PM on October 2, 2009



This is a very well put-together post, but my first reaction upon reading the FPP is that it needs a "schadenfreude" tag. The hubris involved in building a mock-archipeligo of the world with a plan to sell it off piece-meal to the highest bidder, and the comedown of having the project fall apart for lack of funding? Karma can be bitch.


So it's the end of The World as we know it and you feel fine?
posted by arto at 6:15 PM on October 2, 2009 [5 favorites]


A b3ta user's experiences of working in Dubai. It sounds utterly abysmal, and I'm not surprised that extravagant plans like these fail.

Wow. May hell descend upon the owners and operators of Dubai. May their servants poison their food, and their gardeners salt the ground.
posted by fuq at 6:55 PM on October 2, 2009


filthy light thief: "The end of The World has not been brought about by rising tides, but financial woes have put the development on long-term hold, potentially ending the project. "

"'The use of words expressing something other than their literal intention.' Now that... is... irony!"
posted by Rhaomi at 7:31 PM on October 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


Who thought Dubai would rise to be emperor of the middle east? Logically consider this desert mirage. The trillion$ put into the place - doesn't this say that in general, the finance industry has completely lost their marbles?
posted by niccolo at 7:59 PM on October 2, 2009


As a gay man, I have this admittedly-biased litmus test when it comes to my predictions as to whether or not a global economic power can succeed in the long-run. The test is this: could an openly and sexually-active gay person possibly live a minimally decent life there? Not necessarily an extravagant life, nor even a materially successful one, but rather one in which that person isn't actively persecuted, routinely imprisoned, or executed?

If not, then that place is either doomed to the dustbin of history, or that place is a glimpse into the next version of the dark ages.
posted by treepour at 8:05 PM on October 2, 2009 [8 favorites]


Perhaps Dubai's next attempt at earning cash will be letting movie studios film their post-apocalyptic-last-group-of-survivors-on-a-bombed-out-planet extravaganza. Ruins in desert settings are always good scenery.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:11 PM on October 2, 2009


Wasn't this the plot of that Superman movie?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:44 PM on October 2, 2009


treepour, Richard Florida agrees with you (at least within the context of the US' creative class).
posted by liza at 8:51 PM on October 2, 2009


I really have to question the value of money. If money is valuable, how does stupid shit like this get pulled off?

Maybe value should be a log function. It sure as hell isn't working for us on a linear scale. It's because ultrawealthy douchebags fucked up my linear dollar that I've got only 60% the purchasing power I had a year ago. If wealth were a log function, their massive destruction would have been confined to the ultrawealthy douchebags they involved in their douchebag schemes.

Fuck.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:06 PM on October 2, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is a very well put-together post, but my first reaction upon reading the FPP is that it needs a "schadenfreude" tag.

Agreed. And DAMN, that schadenfreude feels good. Whenever I thought of those grandiose projects and the rediculous spending taking place in Dubai and the area, I always marveled at the arrogance. This contraction taking place there makes me feel (a little) better about the world as a whole.
posted by Simon Barclay at 9:51 PM on October 2, 2009


As a gay man, I have this admittedly-biased litmus test when it comes to my predictions as to whether or not a global economic power can succeed in the long-run. The test is this: could an openly and sexually-active gay person possibly live a minimally decent life there?

Islam had a golden age under which the Caliphate did pretty well for a while. I don't know if they'd meet your test, but I suspect not.

I suppose they did end up on the dustbin of history, but they had a couple of good centuries, and I'm not entirely sure the modern western states or civilization will exceed their run...
posted by namespan at 10:07 PM on October 2, 2009


I can't wait for Dubai to turn into a ghost town.

Haha, yeah. Sand niggers die amirite?

As a gay man, I have this admittedly-biased litmus test when it comes to my predictions as to whether or not a global economic power can succeed in the long-run. The test is this: could an openly and sexually-active gay person possibly live a minimally decent life there?

Gay men from the rest of the Arab world move to Dubai. I've heard one tell me that it's like being gay in England in the 1930s or 1940s, which is appalling of course, but this guy was coming from Saudi and his boyfriend was Egyptian where it's closer to being gay in 1730. It may be medieval by Western standards, but it is miles better than its peers.

Actually I'm sure Richard Florida would concede that Dubai being the most socially liberal city in the region has been a part of its massive success. It draws the most creative and talented young Arabs from the rest of the region.


A b3ta user's experiences of working in Dubai.

That sucks for him, but a lot of what he says is fairly hyperbolic.

Look, all you guys have ever heard about Dubai is about the massive construction projects so when they go South there is an assumption that the whole place is fucked. This simple isn't so. The construction sector is fucked, no doubt, but this is also the trade hub (with by far the largest deepwater port) for the entire Arabian peninsula. The UAE (the country where Dubai is) remains immensely wealthy with more oil per capita than anywhere else.

Construction was never more than 20% of the local economy here, so a 75% dropoff (about what the latest figures show) is only a 15% overall contraction. Not exactly ghost town territory.
posted by atrazine at 1:22 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


To quote myself from a previous thread:

"Also, while Dubai is indubitably worse than the '50s in, say, the United States or Western Europe, it is also way better than most of its neighbours now - and definitely in the 50's.

What we think of as 'normal' in terms of human rights might be normative (everyone should strive to emulate it) but is not normal in the statistical sense.
Those people who do not live in the Americas north of the Rio Grande, or in Eurasia west of the Urals (maybe even further west than that) do not have the rights and privileges that we take for granted.

Remember people, this country shares a looong land border with Saudi Arabia, strong historical ties with Pakistan and Iran. Many of the leading Emirati families, especially in Dubai - not so much in Abu Dhabi, are actually ethnically Pakistani and Iranian. Many of the midlevel managers here who are the footsoldiers in the abuse of the workers are from Pakistan, from sub-saharan Africa, from the Central Asian bits of the CIS - these are all places where workers are treated even worse than they are 'here' (I sometimes live in Dubai, but I'm actually in Saudi at the moment). So these supervisory dudes are thinking, what's the problem? this is better than how we treat manual labour in Sudan.

I think part of the problem for Dubai is the way they marketed themselves, as some kind of Utopian holiday destination in the sun. People don't think of the physical geography, they think in terms of airline hubs and spokes - it's like a Tube or Metro diagram rather than a map. People think "Place I saw on the telly with nice hotels and shopping" not "Surrounded by Saudi Arabia and Iran". (Obviously the local tourist board downplays the geography)

So of course when they market Dubai as a modern city-state, people develop Expectations.
They say - that shit might fly in Saudi (where nobody goes on beach holidays) but in Dubai, no. It jars with their desired media image.

I think though, that this kind of recitation of facts, shorn of regional and historical context, is a little unfair. I mean, it's not that any of that stuff is factually untrue. But it would be like me excoriating the American state of New Hampshire as a den of unbridled savagery because:
-It has a death penalty
-Gay Marriage is only just now legal O.M.G. (welcome to the 1960s!)
-Workers rights are for shit
-No gov't health care system
Now by my (Dutch) standards all those things are a little weird and antediluvian, but if I used them to paint NH as some kind of reactionary hellhole it would look odd to American readers.
Because NH barely ever actually executes anybody, actually does have full marriage rights (now at least) and has better worker's rights than many other American States. It's not that the criticisms are illegitimate, just that they fail to take regional and historical context into account. New England isn't exactly the most conservative part of the US, and any account of it that did not mention that would be flawed.

That's a little how I feel about your list of horrors.
I spend my professional time mostly in Africa, in the rest of the Middle East, and in South East Asia. Did you know that in India - which is a democracy after all, and a vigorous one - there are upwards of 10 MILLION indentured hereditary slaves? I would say that this whole region is fucked, but the truth is just the other way around. We are privileged, this shit is the global norm for now.

When I get back from Yemen or Cameroon to Dubai, I am returning to one of the freest places within a 6 hour flight (India is the big exception, its problems notwithstanding). You might say that this reflects more on the region's brutality than on Dubai's enlightenment, fair enough, but it is still true.

Yes, things are getting better, even here, but the baseline from which they are improving is appalling. And while I look forward to the day that everywhere is up to the standards of Western Europe is now, that day will not come in your lifetime or mine.

"
posted by atrazine at 1:24 AM on October 3, 2009 [8 favorites]


Back on topic though, I agree that "The World" is a ridiculous project. Ugly as sin, and pointless. (you can only see the shape from the air, so what's the point?)

Also, as a Dutchman, I would never live that exposed to the sea. Whenever I see a picture of houses in Florida right on the beach I shudder.
posted by atrazine at 1:26 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have an idea which can end this crisis - affordable trees in a grand new rainforest which I'm planning to build in Sahara. My future consortium will build the irrigation systems, ship trees from the Amazon and if we can get all people in the world to chip in by just 10,000 dollars, the project will break even. Buy your very own tree today!
posted by Laotic at 4:02 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Photo of the only completed island (the show house!) It's supposed to be Greenland I believe:

Disclaimer: I took the photo.
posted by Fezzer at 5:33 AM on October 3, 2009



As a gay man, I have this admittedly-biased litmus test when it comes to my predictions as to whether or not a global economic power can succeed in the long-run. The test is this: could an openly and sexually-active gay person possibly live a minimally decent life there? Not necessarily an extravagant life, nor even a materially successful one, but rather one in which that person isn't actively persecuted, routinely imprisoned, or executed?

If not, then that place is either doomed to the dustbin of history, or that place is a glimpse into the next version of the dark ages.


...you mean like ancient greece?
posted by rulethirty at 5:36 AM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


A b3ta user's experiences of working in Dubai. It sounds utterly abysmal, and I'm not surprised that extravagant plans like these fail.

That's a bad story, but it's not at all the worst of it. I've been to Dubai, and it's an extraordinary, beautiful city. However, it really is built on the backs of slaves: Pakistanis and others who travel to Dubai hoping to make money to send back home. Their plight is shameful. Just as one example, living in labor camps without potable water, with no rights to protest, banned from stores. Some living in attics, everyone is crammed together, the workers may be physically abused by their employers, and wages are ridiculously low compared to the cost of living. In essence, once they get there, there's no real way to leave (the employer holds your passport, and you're too poor to leave anyway), and no real way to stay.

That kind of poverty and abuse is horrible on its own. But when seen in a country that is absolutely glittering with tremendous wealth, so you get the immediate side-by-side comparison, it's somehow worse.
posted by Houstonian at 7:36 AM on October 3, 2009


Stories about Dubai always remind me of what Matt Damon's character says in Syriana:

You know what the business community thinks of you? They think that a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other's heads off, and that's where you'll be in another hundred years, so on behalf of my firm I accept your offer.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:22 AM on October 3, 2009


These islands are very close together - I thought the point of a private island was isolation?

Also, I think I must be very Canadian in my aesthetics, because I keep looking at these islands and thinking: "They need more rocks and trees, and some rough scrub brush, and some lichen, maybe some marsh along the shoreline..."
posted by jb at 11:04 AM on October 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


You know, I always thought this "World" thing was skeezy, but knowing that hollywood celebrities bought up pieces of it just makes it even skeezier.
posted by toekneebullard at 4:28 PM on October 3, 2009


"Haha, yeah. Sand niggers die amirite?"
troll, much?
posted by uni verse at 5:14 PM on October 3, 2009


troll, much?

I find the gleeful cheering for economic disaster a little distasteful.

Especially when it comes mixed with protests that the only reason they are against it is either good taste or human rights. As if Americans could possibly have anything to say about either.
posted by atrazine at 8:49 PM on October 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Investment interest has exponential growth.

So why is our wealth measured linearly?
posted by five fresh fish at 10:15 PM on October 3, 2009


But we can still snow ski in the middle of the desert, right? Dubai is such a monstrosity.

/DUBAIST
posted by Burhanistan at 10:19 PM on October 3, 2009


Photo of the only completed island (the show house!) It's supposed to be Greenland I believe:

I know it's opulent, but honestly I was expecting more. The images of the finished plans of this thing made it look much more grandiose.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:28 PM on October 3, 2009


Sometimes you can't believe they keep trying! (Link to today's "The National" paper based down the road in Abu Dhabi.

"The first part of Jumeira Gardens that could start construction next year would be an island off the coast of Dubai called East Bay Island, which would include high-end villas designed by Tony Owen Partners, an Australian firm."

Must.....Keep.....Building.....!
posted by Fezzer at 12:28 AM on October 4, 2009


Especially when it comes mixed with protests that the only reason they are against it is either good taste or human rights. As if Americans could possibly have anything to say about either.

You know, actually I want to retract this. I don't believe it and I don't think that low-grade nastiness like that belongs on Metafilter.
posted by atrazine at 4:13 AM on October 4, 2009


“The World has been cancelled."

So long and thanks for all the fish.
posted by Robert Angelo at 9:33 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


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