Our fascination with building cities is almost equal to our fascination with watching them crumble. From the thousands of "urban decay" tumblrs (Is there an angle from which Detroit's decrepit factories have yet to be photographed?) to a TV series about what the concrete relics of our civilization would look like if mankind disappeared, we want to be voyeurs of the apocalypse without actually having to live through it. There's even something of a tourist industry focused on abandoned places like this Japanese amusement park or the subdivision-turned-(sub)urban prairie of Lehigh Acres, FL, where you can see half-built McMansions battered by the elements. And of course there's the mother of all deserted Urban Exploration sites, the remains of Pripyat, Ukraine after it was emptied on short notice due to the Chernobyl disaster; the city was made famous to a new generation when it was replicated (with downright disturbing accuracy) in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

I started thinking about this due to yesterday afternoon's post of a New Years fireworks display in Dubai. Because I'm pretty sure that in twenty years Dubai is going to be an empty graveyard filled with extravagant but decaying monuments to flaunting wealth.

As an architecture fan, it's hard not to have paid attention to Dubai in the last ten years. The city has sprung up from the desert seemingly overnight (if you want to be freaked out, watch animation of its growth over 11 years as viewed from space) and it appears to be run by oil-rich sheiks with resources that border on limitless. Their goal was to prepare Dubai (and the UAE more generally) for the post-oil world by establishing the city as the global hub of the 0.1% – a shimmering oasis of luxury vacation property and the center of the global financial industry. Accordingly, they have spent lavishly on anything and everything their imaginations have conjured, including ridiculously opulent hotels, indoor ski slopes, a skyscraper nearly double the height of any other building on Earth when its ground was broken, and artificial islands covered with multimillion dollar homes.

Basically, Dubai became the hyper-rich, cocaine binge version of Las Vegas, as executed by straight-laced Muslim men who almost certainly were not on a cocaine binge. God knows what schemes they would have hatched under those circumstances.

The problem is that Dubai is already something of a white elephant, and the situation will probably worsen. They ran out of money when the global recession hit and needed to beg oil-soaked neighbor Abu Dhabi for billions in cash to finish its projects. The artificial islands are all sinking and most of the beach is literally poisoned with human shit. The Burj Khalifa is half empty despite asking prices being slashed repeatedly, and the majority of the city's dozens of high rise office buildings are vacant. It already has the look of an abandoned city – if it can qualify as abandoned without ever being occupied. This experiment is showing the flaws in "If you build it, they will come" as an urban planning strategy.

Why aren't the billionaires and trust funders coming? It's hard to say for certain but the better question is, why would they? It's still a Muslim country, precluding a lot of the, uh, "fun" that the jet-set crowd likes. Alcohol is available on a very limited basis, drugs are almost non-existent due to incredible penalties (a Briton got four years in prison for 0.003 grams of weed on his clothing), and as for semi-nude women frolicking in the sun…forget it. And speaking of that sun, it's about a billion goddamn degrees there during the summer and only moderately scorching the rest of the year. What led anyone to believe that spoiled, decadent, rich Westerners would find this place appealing?

Thank god so many of the buildings are so tall; when the whole thing is swallowed by the ocean in a century or so, we'll have no difficulty finding it.

22 thoughts on “NPF: BEYOND THUNDERDOME”

  • Dubai is a monument to many things–the incredible cruelty of its wealthy few towards its impoverished many, for example–but also, and perhaps primarily, to this: Only children can have fun without sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, and there's already a Disneyland.

  • First, do an image search for Kolmanskop. The National Geographic shots are my favorites. If only that were the fate of Dubai, and Cheney with it.

    Second, J. Dryden, there is a place where adults have fun without sex, drugs, or rock 'n' roll. It's called Branson, and only H.P. Lovecraft could do it justice.

  • @ Ladiesbane – Oh, nononononono–I refuse to believe that anybody actually has fun there. ("My dad says it's like Vegas–if it was designed by Ned Flanders.") No, no–I've come down pretty hard on Vegas on this site, and how the people there don't *actually* have fun and are, instead, just faking it, but I will much sooner believe that the Vegas visitor has something more approximating fun than the Bransonite.

    Or perhaps there is fun in Branson, but it's the furtive kind–like, in every hotel room in Branson, both parties are waiting for the other to fall asleep so they can slip silently out of the room in search of one of Missouri's finest 'Comfort Providers.' ("Come for all you can eat buffet–stay for the anonymous gay sex! Branson: We're America's Closet.")

    Bottom line: If you can remember everything you did, and you regret none of it, you didn't have fun.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Las Vegas lies in a terribly hot desert far from any urban center. It doesn't suffer from lack of alcohol and sex though. Vegas demonstrates a unique American art form: elevating kitsch to the level of art. Everything in Vegas is done meticulously. It also has real art, e.g. the Chihuly ceiling at the Bellagio.

    Dubai is sloppy, unfocused, disjoint and empty. The workers are exploited Indians, Pakistanis and other nationalities who search for work anywhere they can get it. Vegas is heavens for the masses. Vegas also has powerful labor unions making the place, absent a recession, a worker's paradise.

  • B.L. Z'Bubbly says:

    It was my understanding that in recent years, some of the big casinos in Vegas attempted to repackage themselves into family-friendly vacation destinations. There are also many partially built McMansions weathering away within the city limits; I am sure tours have already been organized.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Proof, yet again, that while the worlds super-rich, virtually un-taxed, Galtian Overlords have more money than they know what to do with, doesn't mean that have a feckin' clue of what to do with it.

    Well, thank goodness they get to keep most, if not all, of their money – and that they didn't have to share it with "The Poors," via taxes.

    Allah, God, Mohammed, and Jesus, knows what utterly foolish things those "Poors" would waste it on, if they had some of that money if it were ever to be taxed at some fair rate!
    You know – useless things like fresh water and better food, a better place to live, and better medical care and education for themselves and their children.
    Far better to erect an air-conditioned Mecca for, and by, the moneyed morons, smack dab on the edge of a feckin' desert and a sea!
    And all in a country where, if you decide to have a couple of drinks (if you can find some), and go to frolic in the sea in swimming trunks, or a bikini or thong, the best you can hope for, is spending a couple of days, weeks, months, years, or decades, in jail, and the worst, is being chum for sharks, if the Mullah's Morality SWAT Team catches you.

    I'm just surprised that Donald Trump's sorry-@$$ name isn't plastered all over this idiotic dump celebrating what people with great wealth, but no class or taste, want to waste their easily-earned, probably inherited, un-taxed money on.
    But, I guess, to the world's Oil Sheik's, the only schmuck in the history of the feckin' planet to ever go bankrupt multiple times, all while running feckin' CASINO's, no less, "Teh Donald," is, compared to them, one of "The Poors."
    Well, perhaps in a generation or two, these fools can recoup some of the money they spent building this foolish place, by having their Cayman Islands shell organizations run scuba-diving expeditions on the spot.

    Still, I think I might rather live in a part of the world where my clueless, un-taxed Galtian Overlords build ostentacious monuments to their own folly, than in a country where they openly spend their un-taxed money, to openly purchase elections.

    Say what you will about the rich fools in Dubai, but at least they're trying to build something, hoping that people will come – and not trying to buy elections, like our rich fools here, so that they can tear stuff apart, not caring for even one second about the results for the rest of the people here…

    This, THIS, is why you tax the living sh*t out of the feckin' rich!!!

    To protect them, and society, from their own folly.

    Let them spend whatever remains, after they're taxed at 90+% on their highest earnings, on CPA's and Tax Attorney's, to try to find them some loopholes, and not erect luxurious buildings in a feckin' desert, or trying to buy feckin' elections.

  • "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

  • The key to having fun in both Las Vegas and Branson is to make fun of them. I actually had a very meaningful relationship moment with my s.o. at the Bellagio fountain as we did our best to hod in the giggles as the people around us ohhhhed and ahhhhhed.

  • Allah, God, Mohammed, and Jesus, knows what utterly foolish things those "Poors" would waste it on, if they had some of that money if it were ever to be taxed at some fair rate!
    You know – useless things like fresh water and better food, a better place to live, and better medical care and education for themselves and their children.

    And in the world according to Bill O'Reilly and Mittens Romney, it's the poor, the women, and the minorities who want stuff, who want things, who will vote for the politicians promising them gifts from the government. I am reminded of a line which our ::cough:: resident godbag trolls apparently have never bothered to mention: What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul?

  • An aside on Detroit ruin porn:

    In his book Trust Me I'm Lying (which I enormously recommend), Ryan Holiday writes about why pictures of abandoned buildings alone are much, much more likely to go viral than pictures featuring Detriot's human population.

    I'll never look at that stuff the same way.

  • I feel the same way about Dubai that I feel about the "Viagra Triangle" in Chicago's Gold Coast.

    It's a place that old, obscenely rich, culture-free assholes adore because they get special treatment.

  • SparkandMercury says:

    Shit-poisoned sands, a cocaine-binge Vegas on the sea… Who would want to go there? Unsurprisingly, every time I've been to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, the beaches have been full of Russians.

    It's not as hard to be scantily-clad as you might think, and the hotels serve liquor. You can also buy it at certain stores if you're a resident and sign an affidavit to the effect that you're an alcoholic and require it for "medicinal purposes."

  • The history of the World's Tallest dick-waving race has been kind of interesting. Ever since the Chrysler and Empire State were bluffing their way past each other for the honor, the Tallest building has always turned out to be uneconomical for at least a decade after construction. Turns out filling up all that space at top-market rates isn't very easy. Tenants who can afford to pay for marquee space generally aren't terribly mobile, having locked in long-term leases at other properties. And, quite often the buildings come on the market right when the economy tanks, so nobody is expanding.

  • According to some urban myth I heard. The guy who designed the al Arab was a Christian. He had a vision about doing something to promote Jesus in the region, then won the contract. So supposedly the building from the sea looks like a cross. They say that if it had faced towards the city they would have levelled it.

    So if its true, how's that for giving someone the royal bird?

  • Bottom line: If you can remember everything you did, and you regret none of it, you didn't have fun.

    I can state, from personal experience, that this is absolutely not true. But then, I'm a hedonist.

  • you mean, money can't stop the flow of fecal matter or stop climate change or stop the heat of the sun in the middle of the desert?
    oh come now. Ayn Rand can't be wrong about money and human greed, can she?
    don't tell me stupidity can't/won't win out in the end. just see our Republican/Democratic Congressmen for proof of that.

  • @ mothra: Curses! Hedonists! Every rule has exceptions, and the conviction that life is solely justified by pleasure is, indeed, a free pass on this one. (Though don't be too proud–sociopaths and TLC programmers are also incapable of regret.)

    Also, and I know this is completely off-topic and violates the NP of NPF, but how are we not acknowledging that as of today, Joe Lieberman is no longer in a position of legislative authority? Shouldn't this be a cork-popping day of rejoicing here at G&T?!

  • the concept of a ski run in the desert. how much energy must that take, i know money is no object to the Sheik/Ruler/Emir. shows how screwed up these "Rich folk" are. after all the stories i have read about the laborers and other interlopers who get stuck in these Kingdoms, just proves insanity rules. or a commenter said, we are just homo stupidus, not homo sapiens, if sapiens has anything to do with thinking. obviously not.

  • The tourism sector in Dubai is growing by 13 per cent annually; with growth in hotel revenue exceeding 22 per cent to reach more than Dh 16 billion. The hotel occupancy rate was 82 per cent in the year 2011, which was the highest globally, and the number of visitors to Dubai Mall reached 62 million in 2012, with 25 per cent growth in retail sales in 2011.

    What would you say about these numbers?

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