Losing cultural heritage in favour of economic growth

Growing up with Dubai I thought it would be the perfect subject for me to write about. I say “with” as most of Dubai’s substantial growth and development has occurred in the past 19 years. Day in and day out, I saw these drastic changes happen. In this blog, I will be exploring how these developments have affected the city’s people, culture and architecture. 

The UAE, established on 2 December 1971, is a federation of seven emirates. The constituent emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain. Dubai stands out amongst the seven emirates. While the other six states have maintained their traditional ways, Dubai has become one of the fastest growing cities in the world due to the government’s decision to expand from oil-based economy. There are 30,000 construction cranes operating in Dubai alone. This is 25% of the cranes worldwide.

The fast paced developments in the city have brought with them some side-effects that may sometimes go unnoticed amongst the tall glass skyscrapers and fake snow. The city has been built from scratch in less than 30 years. The city’s philosophy, values and culture hasn’t had a chance to catch up and adapt to the new Dubai. So a teenager in this city would grow up in an entirely different Dubai to his or her parents. This has caused a huge gap in the development of ideologies and has made Emirati culture a slowly fading one. There is only one museum in Dubai dedicated to the Emirati culture. Few records relating to the cultural history of the UAE or its constituent emirates exist because of the area’s oral traditions, which meant that folklore and myth were not written down.

This is a huge turning point for the young city of Dubai. The youth seem to have lost all interest for their culture, and pretty soon it will be forgotten for good and a new culture will take its place. In a way, this has already happened in America. The indigenous people of America, the native Indians are almost extinct. Their culture can no longer be seen, and a new set of beliefs and values have taken their place. All traces of the previous culture is almost gone now so the lifestyle in America seems like it is the only one that has ever existed there. We are at that turning point in Dubai right now; some have been raised in the old Dubai and other have been shaped by the new one. So you would have either been surrounded by vernacular architecture or tall glass buildings and starchitecture. The transition, and moving on from one to the other has been so rapid that entire neighbourhoods appear, seemingly overnight. Dubai has turned from a desert into a city that offers “everyone everything they could possibly want”.     

Dubai’s main focus has always been making money rather than building anything memorable and as a result city planners tore down nearly everything historical years ago. When the oil money started to flow in the 1960s, Dubai attempted to claim the cutting edge by throwing up tall buildings that were just that, tall. The buildings did not have any other significance and did not relate to the city’s culture in any way. Dubai’s most recognised landmark, The Burj Al Arab was pretty much its only landmark. By late 2005, Dubai had shown a sign of maturity by realising that quantity does not necessarily mean quality. 





Out with the old, in with the fake

Dust storms are a regular occurrence in Dubai, and when there is dust, the heat burns through and the high temperatures burn through anything that isn’t kept constantly wet. This of course is done artificially. The city has no usable water and is among the lowest rainfall in the world. So the only way to produce useable water is by desalination; this makes it the most expensive water on earth. At one point I remember it was cheaper to put petrol in your car than it was to buy bottled water.

Artificial islands, snow and ski resorts are just some of the fakes in this city. Dubai prides itself with these fakes, and even attempts to convince people of their authenticity. An example of this is the Souks (markets) in Madinat Jumeirah (Jumeirah village). These markets are advertised as being authentic Arabic markets that allow tourist and everyone else to experience genuine Emirati culture. Entering the Souk you are faced with the yet another air conditioned, beautifully lit shopping mall that has been decorated in a way that reminds you of an Arabic market.



An adult Disneyland. Dubai’s most impressive landmark may be itself. “Atlantis, The Palm” is the underwater hotel that opened in 2008. The tale of Atlantis, is one of many of Plato’s work that serves as an allegory for a nation’s fate due to hubris. Hubris, means extreme pride or self-confidence and often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power. The tale sound too familiar, a city that has lost “contact with reality”.

This fabricated reality, has engulfed the residents of Dubai. Their biggest concern is appearances and leading a certain lifestyle. It is the norm to have a new phone and car every year. Although this doesn’t include everyone.



The most expensive hotel, the biggest shopping mall, the biggest snow park, the tallest building, the biggest artificial islands, largest man-made marina, the most expensive police cars and the self-styled “7 star hotel” are only a few examples of the superlatives in Dubai. Superlatives have become a huge part of the culture and play a huge role in how people in Dubai behave. The newest, the most expensive and shiniest! 



But these are opinions and things that we have been hardwired to believe.

Everything is made of carbon, whether that’s a pencil or a diamond or you. Why should it be more expensive to buy a D grade diamond than it is to hire a full time (and I mean FULL time) maid in Dubai? What makes some materials more superior than others?