In the famous words of Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee (kind of), “That’s not an urban vision, ….”
Whatever observations and interpretations people might make about the phenomena of Abu Dhabi, the largest and most powerful Emirate, high on the list will be an astounding vision. Vast urban landscapes are emerging from the desert dust on the islands. Whole city centres (yes that was plural), massive hotel complexes, multilane freeways, suburbs of villas (read mansions that make Caroline Springs look like Caroline Drip). And apart from the grandeur and architectural/engineering feat that presses relentlessly on, the arresting feature common to all of this new development is it sits there pregnant with opportunity, but still waiting for people to move in.
Yes, blocks of skyscrapers that are sitting like ghost towns of the future, waiting. Waiting. Groups of hotel complexes, huge huge hotels, effectively in the middle of nowhere. Where are the people? The other day we went across to Saadiyat island and viewed the plans and emerging structures of the Louve Abu Dhabi, Guggenheim Abu Dhabu, New York University Abu Dhabi and vast residential areas. The vision for what this place could and might become is breathtaking.
Apparently Dubai set out to be the Las Vegas of this hemisphere. Abu Dhabi’s visions is to be the cultural and educational centre, the place where the art, culture and religion of Africa, Asia, and the Middle east is captured and presented in the way the iconic institutions of Europe have done for the West over the centuries. With unimaginable wealth, who knows what might happen when the only limiter is vision. It is perhaps the most grand of all ‘build it and they will come’ experiments.
Zipo. Zero. Nothing. Well, that’s not actually true, there is an island with sand. No road, just a sandy island. The three lane each way bitumen finishes at the edge of the bridge. “Well, one day we might want to develop that island, so better build a bridge just in case.” Welcome to Abu Dhabi.
Stay tuned for some reflections on that, as well as a day trip to Dubai on Sunday before Etihad gives us a lounge chair, dining room and bedroom seat for the 14 ‘happy’ hours of the return journey. When I was kid I had a set of jokes that described books by matching authors, such as ‘Cliff Jumping by Hugo First’. Well I just modified one, ’14 hours in row 19 by Major Bumsor.’