What to give a city that has everything: A column by Roberto Lopardo
Dubai the modern day success story...
For every success story there will be a hater. What is a hater? Urban Dictionary defines a hater as a person that cannot be happy for another person's success. Rather than be happy they make a point of exposing a flaw in that person. Dubai for all intents and purposes is a modern day success story.
A once sleepy fishing village transformed into a vital global metropolis, all in less then a twenty-year span. I have lived in Dubai for nine of those years and have been witness to this radical (r)evolution. Where there was once nothing but shifting sands in the wind now sits a bustling transportation system, glittering architectural gems, thriving marketplaces, and a heaving multicultural populace. In these nine years, I traveled to Europe and North America for vacation and business, and inevitably was peppered with questions about my experiences in Dubai. Everyone wants to know more about the fabled city that is rising magically somewhere far away in the desert. Some of these questions are innocent enough, namely curiosity for the sake of knowledge, but some of these questions are not innocent at all and feel more like inquisitions probing for weaknesses. And it is in this pessimistic inquiry that we find the prejudices of the haters. Most often the claim is that Dubai is the Vegas of the Middle East ... simply a copy of a copy incapable of contributing any real value at the highest levels of global inter-dialogue because it lacks a soul.
How to quiet the haters?
Prove them wrong.
How to prove them wrong?
How to foster an innovative populace?
Embolden their imagination.
Dubai has equitably focused much of its efforts and resources into developing the physical underpinnings that are necessary for an effectual modern metropolis. By all accounts, it has done a bang-up job in these regards and remains ahead of the curve for a city of its size. As the city's bourgeoning denizens begins to settle into these newly minted spaces maybe it is a good time for the city's intrepid visionaries to pause, take stock, and consider what should be the next steps. Namely, how to keep Dubai ahead of the curve? Perhaps the city has already reached a crossroads in its tender young history where it is no longer necessary to focus solely on vertical or horizontal growth but rather to divert some attention on developing the gaps. These gaps I speak of are as much physical as they are metaphysical. Physically, these gaps can be the odd undeveloped lot in Jumeirah, the pedestrian walkways that wind through Downtown Dubai, or the accessible public plazas along the Dubai Creek. Metaphysically, these gaps are the methods through which a denizen enriches their life, invigorates their mind, and activates their imagination. It very well may be that these in-between spaces are where Dubai's next super growth surge should occur.
Imagine if you will a Dubai that turns its amazing capacity to make real those things that others only dream of towards developing its cultural infrastructure. In other words, utilizing the physical gaps to help fill in the metaphysical gaps; building theaters and amphitheaters both big and small ... constructing performing arts centers and concert halls both significant and humble ... fashioning museums that focus on art, fashion, history, media, science, and technology ... developing sumptuous botanical gardens and mindful scientific societies ... designing sprawling sculpture parks and radical skate parks ... and amassing relevant adult-educational centers. Envisage how these kinds of spaces would serve as beacons of light, fostering self-fulfillment, advancing inventive evolution, which in turn would spread innovation throughout the community and region. Consider how the people who now call Dubai home can more effectively express what is unique about themselves to their wider communities, encouraging dialogue and debate, furthering a new collective consciousness and a sense of belonging. And expect that this newly found sense of communal identity would lead to new expressions in commerce and culture that would be exported not only throughout the city and region but to all corners of the world via the ever-growing curious legion of tourists.
At this point in history, Dubai has first-movers advantage. It is ahead of the curve. This in itself is a fantastic achievement, one worthy of recognition and praise. However, time does not sit still, and to rest on ones laurels is a fatalistic strategy. We are now bearing witness to more and more countries around the world that have intently studied Dubai's explosion on the global scene who are now attempting to emulate this growth and invigorate their own stagnant economies and populace. It remains to be seen whether these upstarts will be successful in their attempts to imitate something else's reality but at the very least two things do remain clear: (1) as with all things in life, there are leaders and there are followers, and (2) those roles are changing constantly. What is the next step for Dubai? In one person's humble opinion? Encourage innovation amongst its denizens by creating a plethora of viable cultural institutions that are strategically placed throughout the city. These cultural centers will not only make the city more attractive and habitable leading to further population growth but more importantly they will lead to originality in human endeavor. This ever-growing spiral of modernity fed by innovation will preserve Dubai's role at the forefront of progressive urban output and ensure that it continues to move to its own rhythm, creating more and more believers along the way.