Dubai’s Long Goodbye


This essay details the effects of the global economic crisis on Dubai and assesses the future implications for urban and economic development in Dubai itself and within its broader sphere of influence. Dubai’s real estate‐led six‐year boom between 2003 and 2008 is located within the emirate’s growth strategy, which expressed the ruling al‐Maktoum family’s long‐running ambition for the city‐state to ascend to global‐city status on the basis of significant investment in economic infrastructure over decades to service a regional trading‐hub role. Urban development during the boom years was accelerated in terms of process and built outcomes as state‐backed real estate companies borrowed heavily on capital markets and designed and constructed an extraordinary array of commercial, industrial, retail, residential and tourism facilities to cater for a planned population increase on the basis of growing economic activity. The global economic crisis brought the boom years to an end from late 2008 onwards: construction slowed down, if it did not halt altogether, property values dropped by half, and the finances of state‐owned companies are undergoing restructuring in the face of creditor demands. A durable pick‐up in economic growth is likely to impel Dubai’s ruling elite to re‐emphasize the city’s regional trading and service‐centre role based on strong investment in aviation, shipping and logistics infrastructure. While real estate development will be demoted as an economic priority, Dubai’s city‐building practices will continue to influence the current wave of global suburbanization in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.