Saturday, 9 May 2009
Interview with Mohammad Masad.
Can you describe the social mix In Dubai.
The people who live in Dubai represent one of the most complex and diverse mixes of people anywhere. There are approximately 200 different nationalities that live in Dubai. The people come from all over the world. This mix of population can really be broken down into two different communities; the first one is the Emiratis who are the original indigenous population of Dubai, and the second major group is the expat community. The largest group amongst the expatriate community is from South Asia, especially India.
What factors have brought global attention to Dubai?
Dubai has grown to become a global city. The reasons for people coming here can be traced within the global context of free trade, cheaper air travel in recent years, the free-ing up of visa restrictions; basically globalization. There are always opportunities here, plus there are no taxes, which makes it a very attractive place to come to. This is not just specific to Dubai though; internationally in recent years we have witnessed the mass movements of people from rural areas into cities in search of new opportunities, people moving across borders from country to country who are not grounded in any locality. If you look at the residents of the city, that the majority of the people that live here are not permanent citizens, it is a transient population. People come here to experience the modern marvels that have been created in Dubai; whether it be an indoor ski slope, or group of man made islands, or a rotating hotel. In addition to this you can buy almost anything you want.
Another reason as to why people are interested in Dubai, has to do with the crisis of the ‘Dubai Ports World’ that happened about 3 years ago. A major Dubai company acquired the rights to control 6 US ports, and that created a political storm in the United States, and Congress was generally opposed to it, and so Dubai has become a recognizable name in the US and around the world, as a major emerging city.
Can you expand on the importance of shopping in Dubai?
For people who live in Dubai, perhaps the centre of activity is the shopping mall. There are now 45 malls here, shopping has become a major activity, the city is like a giant shopping mall in itself. This has two sides to it. The shopping mall is where tourists spend a lot of time, and for people who live in the city, the shopping mall has become the public place of congregation. It is the most experienced public space in the city. The reason for this is the lack of actual investment in real public places outside of the private shopping mall. If you live in Dubai, there are hardly any other public spaces to go and meet people.
In this sense Dubai is not radically different to other cities around the world, where shopping malls have become primary public spaces. To understand the significance of the shopping mall in Dubai, we have to keep in mind the changing image of the public space globally. Many cities invested in creating artificial environments for people that are safe, consistent, clean and generally pleasant to be in. Like many citizens in cities across the world, people in Dubai have become primarily consumers, there has certainly been a shift in recent years from being a citizen of a country to becoming a consumer of the world.
What does this say about human activity around the world? That people are living in gated compounds and environments and when they want to interact with other people they get in their car and drive to a mall or theme-park, without ever really interacting with nature?
The city has always been a place that represents civilization, and its importance has relied on the premise of interaction with other people. The interesting thing about Dubai is that this interaction is extremely limited. So the question remains; is Dubai really a city? I’ll give you an example; I’ve lived in this compound for 7 years, there is no social life here, there is no real community, I don’t know my neighbours, they don’t know me. People live here to do there job, they don’t live here to be part of a community. It’s transient; people live here for a few years and then move on.
The interaction with nature here is equally as problematic, as you look around there is less and less nature that you can authentically experience. The front beach areas in Dubai have become private beach areas, managed and run by hotel resorts. Unless you are a guest at one of the luxury hotels you cannot get onto the beaches. There is not much public beach that is left.
The fact that your missing these two essential things as a resident of Dubai; both interaction with other people, and interaction with nature it says something about a new kind of city, a new kind of urban life, in which much of our life is encapsulated within enclosed environments whether its your apartment or villa, car or shopping mall, office, or restaurant. There is very little authentic urban experience left.