Professor Yasser Elseshtawy
Yasser is an Adjunct Professor at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University and a non-resident fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, D.C. We spoke to Yasser about The DNA of Dubai.
Image Credit: Emiel Molenaar via Unsplash.
What is the DNA of Dubai?
Yeah, so that's sort of like the very first question, and it's a very interesting one, and I think some people might argue that Dubai doesn't necessarily or does not have a DNA perhaps. That it is a city that is characterised as being without character, that it lacks any distinction, that is primarily predicated on speculation and an environment or spaces that do not really relate to each other in any effective way. However, I think I sort of would disagree with that. And perhaps we can identify the DNA of Dubai through a set of qualities that I've been researching and that I have looked at throughout my years while I was staying in the UAE and working as a professor at the university there and after, coming to the US and working and publishing my book in 2019 'Temporary Cities: Resisting Transience in Arabia'. So those qualities are three, I think. I sort of thought that those really constitute the essence of the city and how we can perhaps sort of portray it. The first one would be temporality and transience, the second one would be the need for constant reinvention and the third one would be segregation.
Now, with regard to temporality and transience, this is something that I have explored and examined in great detail in my book 'Temporary Cities' where I've argued that the spaces in the city, the way they have been designed and configured, the way in which the urban environment has been planned sort of does not encourage forming any long-term attachments, that residents in the city are basically regarded as being disposable in a way, that they come for a certain amount of time and then eventually, they would have to leave and return back to their homeland.
Now, with regard to how this impacts the urban environment - and I'm talking from the perspective of an architect and somebody who's really concerned with space and so on- is that when we look at the environment in Dubai, the urban environment, spaces appear as if they have not been lived in, that there is an absence of messiness and disorder, something that we find in other cities and which suggest to us that there has been kind of a long-term formation of long-term attachment. So I think that's, very generally speaking, one particular aspect in which temporariness and transience manifests itself and which I think constitutes, really, a main element of the city's urban environment.
The second quality is this notion of constant reinvention. When you look at the city in terms of what has been going on over the last three decades, that there has been this constant reconstitution of urban spaces, destruction of traditional neighbourhoods, removal of distinctive buildings and landmarks and so on, it has led to a situation where there is this constant sense of operating within a tabula rasa, that things are erased and reconstituted.
And there are many examples for that. For instance, there's a neighbourhood called the Shorta neighbourhood, a traditional neighbourhood in Dubai that was built in the '70s but was recently demolished to make way for a luxurious development. The other, more recent example is a project called Marsa Al Seef which occupies a large public corniche, a walkway along the creek which divides the city in two parts and that was kind of like a public space where people could go, and they could just hang out without necessarily engaging in any commercial activities or being distracted by any commercial use. That was taken over by a developer and has now been turned into a luxurious, upscale development where a sort of fake historical urban environment has been created, and it gives the appearance that it's sort of historic. But it is not; it is very recent. So, again, this is something that was very typical and that you see throughout the city.
And lastly, I think one of the main aspects or qualities comprising the DNA of the city is segregation, namely that the city is sort of divided into these different areas and structured according to different criteria pertaining to demographics, class and so on. So there are labour camps, there are areas that are inhabited by Emiratis, nationals which are separate from areas inhabited by expatriates, and there is no mixing that is going on. The city is structured and fragmented and fractured based on these categories, and I think that's something that permeates the urban environment in many respects.
Yasser, if I may, this is a hugely insightful set of observations, and I wonder if you'd like to speak a little bit about what lies behind these three things. For example, do you think this is an intentional or unintentional scenario? Is it somehow the characterisation of a city that is led by a community that has historically been nomadic? Does it imply certain kinds of attitudes towards the urban realm which are different from attitudes towards the natural realm? Do you have views about why these three characteristics that you've explained so cleverly-- why they are present in Dubai? Is there something about Dubai's other characteristics that lead to this?
I think so. Well, I think it's a matter, to a large extent, of demographics. If you look at the population of Dubai, you will see that the actual nationals constitute anywhere between 6 to 12 percent. The numbers are not very precise because there hasn't been a census in years. But that sense of being a minority that is surrounded by this vast sea of expatriates leads to a kind of approach where they are trying to protect themselves by engaging in these, or by promoting these different qualities. So they do not want to encourage long-term attachment by the majority or the vast majority of residents.
That is changing now a little bit. There are initiatives now to offer citizenship and so on, but it's largely at a very small scale at the moment. The notion of segregation, of keeping these different groups that are coming in and contributing to servicing the city and engaging in construction and building all these different structures and so on, that you want to keep them apart somehow to minimise conflict. So I think that plays another important role.
But there is something also cultural, perhaps, and these nomadic roots, these nomadic origins perhaps play a role as well in a sense that history is looked at with a kind of attitude where it is not necessarily valued so much; although, again, that has been changing. But in the '70s and the '80s, there were wholesale efforts at destroying traditional neighbourhoods, of getting rid of older structures and replacing them with newer ones. And it was pointed out to them by Prince Charles, among other people, that these traditional neighbourhoods need to be preserved in some way, that they are valuable. So right now, they are recognising that, and they are preserving whatever is still left of that. And also, there are efforts to preserve its modernist architecture in some way. So there is a realisation now that perhaps the historical has value as well. But by and large, I think these qualities still remain. And I think, really, the root cause for all of this is this desire to protect themselves from this really large percentage of expatriates that live and reside in the city.
Again, this is a very helpful and insightful comment, Yasser. I'm going to ask one more question, if I may, before we go back to Caitlin, which is just to ask you, really, if you think this is a permanent set of characteristics or whether you think they could change. And perhaps to pick up on the point you made right at the start of your last answer where, partly because of dynamics in the rest of the region, the evolution of Saudi and other things, the new relationship with Israel, there are these reforms in train that are about lifelong visas, even citizenship, ability to own land, ability to own sole-interest companies, are those reforms-- do you see them as pointing in another direction in the future or just being, as it were, a slight adaptation of the existing model? How do you read those reforms?
Yeah, it's a little bit difficult to make a proper judgement about these because they have been quite recent. And arguably, I mean, we can take a very cynical approach to this and regard or look at it as a way to deal with the current circumstances, that, given the COVID crisis and so on and that there has been a kind of exodus from the city, people leaving, these are attempts at sort of mitigating that and to minimise the impact of that by offering certain individuals and certain elements of the expatriate population long-term visas and the possibility for actually getting nationality. So all of that is still in flux.
But I would say that there are efforts within the UAE, even while I was there, to sort of combat that and that there is a realisation that continuing with the current direction is not necessarily sustainable in the long run. And there is a need to integrate the population, the expatriate population, to make them part of the overall development that is taking place. So I think there are voices that are calling for that, and perhaps, some of these latest efforts are a response to that, but it really remains to be seen whether this is long-lasting. My general sense is that it's more a reaction to the current situation and that things will resort back to what they were before once the crisis is over and, you know, things will go back the way they were. So that is my general feeling and my general sense because I don't think that it will be that easy to engage in any sort of large-scale approach towards giving citizenship to people with all the benefits that that entails in terms of education, health and so on. I mean, it's quite a massive undertaking.
So at the moment, it's really meant for a very, very small segment of the population-- to getting citizenship. In fact, as far as I know, there is no clear path towards that. You need to actually be nominated by governmental authorities to become a citizen, so it's a very minute portion. The vast majority continues to live as they were: segregated, removed and basically living in a temporary environment that they eventually have to leave.
Thank you, Yasser. This is really fascinating. Now, can you tell us a little bit about what makes Dubai, Dubai and how many different Dubai's there are? Is there one? Are there many?
Yeah, well, Dubai, like any other city, is really made through its people, right: I mean, through their actions, through their appropriation of space, through how they navigate the different urban settings. And I've talked in my first answer about this notion of temporariness and transience, but clearly, there are attempts by the residents of Dubai to sort of resist this transience and to inhabit the city, to make it their home in many ways, even if it's only for a very short amount of time. So it's through these actions by the different nationalities and the different people that live in the city, we can really begin to understand Dubai, that it is comprised of all these different nationalities that are coming together and that are trying to make a living and to inhabit the space.
Now, with regard to this notion of how many different Dubai's are there, I mean, clearly, the city has been described, or this metropolis has been described, as being a city of many cities, that it has all these different areas that are not necessarily related to each other, that are separate and so on. So there is old Dubai, there is new Dubai, which are quite different environments. There are the suburban expansions to the west inhabited by nationals. There are labour camps that contain the construction workers who are involved in building all these marvels of skyscrapers and shopping malls and so on. Gated communities throughout the city which are contained, you know, are a habitat for the city's expatriates. Exclusive towers, Palm Island's. And, of course, affordable and various neighbourhoods that make up the city which are inhabited by the city's middle- and low-income population. So it's a very broad spectrum in terms of how many Dubai's are there.
Like any other city, there are all these different neighbourhoods and areas and districts, but I think what makes this so unique in Dubai is that they are kind of separate from each other but not that separate; they are easily accessible. So you will not find, for example, like, a slum area that would be really difficult to navigate or that is in such a strong contrast from the rest of the city like we find in places like Cairo or India and so on. Yeah, so I think that sort of would be my response to that, that it is a city of many cities.
And you've mentioned in your answers some of the people who come to live in Dubai. And can you tell us a bit about why Dubai, why they come to live there, why they come to work there?
Yeah, I mean, there are all sorts of reasons. I mean, the main one is people are looking for a place to work, and they're looking to make a livelihood. So clearly, Dubai provides that and welcomes people who come for that purpose. But it is also an environment, particularly in contrast to its immediate surroundings-- it is a place that is quite liberal in its social norms. So it's conducive for, even people, like, living-- when they go there, they are in the Middle East, they are in an Arab country and so on, but they still do not have to abide by the conservative norms that tend to exist elsewhere in the region.
And it's really quite interesting because, for instance, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia is now aiming at replacing Dubai as a sort of centre for expatriates and so on. And just very recently, a few days ago, they had a decision that anybody who would like to engage in any sort of transaction, any company that wants to engage in a transaction with Saudi Arabia, with Riyadh needs to establish their headquarters in Riyadh itself which is, of course-- some have looked at it as a way of taking away or bringing people who are headquartered in Dubai towards Riyadh. And Riyadh is, of course, a very conservative city, and there are many people who have objected to that. And this is really what makes the city so attractive, that it is quite liberal, that it allows for a continuation of a Western lifestyle to a large extent. And this is one of, I think, the main reasons why people would like to live there and remain there as long as they can.
And also, given what is happening elsewhere in the region, it is quite a safe environment in terms of security, in terms of crime, in terms of terror-related events and incidents. There are hardly any that have happened there and that makes it particularly attractive not just for living and working there but also for tourism. It's a place where you can experience kind of a very safe and sanitised Middle East.
I just want to ask about where this-- how Dubai has set itself apart as a liberal city among conservative neighbours. Where has that come from?
You mean like the reasons why it is so liberal?
Yeah, it's a good question. I mean, I think, historically, it has always been open to the world in some way, and I think that has led it to becoming a little bit more open and liberal as compared to other parts like Saudi Arabia, even Abu Dhabi. So Dubai was always a port city and engaged in trade with its neighbours. It was a place that contained, historically-- was home to people from various nationalities, so all of those would come in and would have-- and sort of bring their own cultural attitudes and that has led to a kind of tolerance towards that.
So I think all of these factors-- and there's also this-- people in Dubai, like the original Dubaians, are quite savvy in terms of trade and looking for opportunities for trade. So in a sense, having a liberal atmosphere is conducive to that. It's kind of a way to take advantage of opportunities. And if that means relaxing social norms, even to the extent of, perhaps we can say, going against conservative Islamic values has led to that. So alcohol is available freely in Dubai; although, we still need a licence to purchase it. Dubai has a thriving prostitution scene which is quite remarkable given the region and the context. There are nightclubs and parties and bars. And I mean, it's really remarkable that this is taking place in a region where you have on one side Saudi Arabia and then on the other side, Iran.
And it's, in some way, a reflection, one could argue, of the ingenuity of its inhabitants, in that they have been able to sort of balance these two conservative trends. So even though alcohol is available, you still need a licence to buy alcohol. There is zero tolerance for exhibiting any kind of drunken behaviour in public which can sometimes lead to very embarrassing situations because people come to Dubai and think this is like a city like anywhere else. But then there are still some conservative elements and still some conservative aspects to the city that have not gone away completely and which are necessary to maintain that very tenuous and delicate balance.
That's fascinating. Thank you. Let’s come now to Dubai's geographical and geological features. You've mentioned the creek but tell us a bit more about how Dubai's geography has shaped its evolution.
Yeah, it's primarily-- I think the key is really-- or the main element of Dubai's geography and which has played a huge role and continues to play a role in its evolution and transformation is the creek. Dubai is divided in two parts. The creek emanates or comes from the Persian Gulf, and it divides the city in two parts: to the east is Deira and to the west is Bur Dubai. And the creek was really central to the foundation of the modern city because historically, at the beginning of the 20th century, ships would come into the city for various-- for trade purposes.
But then there was difficulty sometimes navigating the waters because of the tide, and ships would get stuck on sand and so on. So in the '60s, the former ruler of Dubai and the father of its modern development Sheikh Rashid began the project of deepening the creek, which was a massive engineering undertaking, and which involved reclaiming part of the waterway for the city and also deepening the waterway to facilitate entry of ships into the city, which in turn encouraged trade and investment.
Now, over the last decade or so, the creek has been further extended so that it now enters the city and then continues throughout the city and then exits the city nearby the district of Jumeirah which basically turns that part of the city, Bur Dubai, into an island of sorts. And all sorts of developments are coming up along this extension, the Business Bay district and other projects. And it's kind of like a historical continuation of what happened early in the 20th century and then in the '60s and now, to sort of further continue the development of Dubai. And I think that's really one of the central elements of the city's geography.
Thank you very much. And is there anything that you would have wanted to say about the desert or the mountains and their role in Dubai's evolution?
Yeah, I mean, I don't know about mountains. There aren't really that many; it's a very flat environment. But the desert, yeah, that's kind of interesting. I think, I mean, one way in which I have sort of attempted to explain the presence of the desert or lack thereof, is that there is this constant desire to move away from this image of a city that has emerged from the desert. And clearly, when you approach Dubai from a distance, that image of towers coming up in the middle of a desert-scape is a very powerful one and one that captures the imagination of people and sort of enhanced or strengthened its imaginary as an urban environment that has come up and is surrounded by a desert-scape.
But there are increased efforts at moving away from that through landscaping, through greening, even if it comes at a great cost. And when you drive throughout the city, along its highways, you see all these green roundabouts and plants and flowers and trees and so on. And all of that is artificial; it's a way to highlight the fact that the desert is not who we are, that we are-- that we have embraced greenery and water and so on.
And I think the real element or the real development that sort of captured that quite extensively is the Palm Island, the Palm Jumeirah which is this massively reclaimed island built at the beginning of the 20th century. And one way to explain that is-- I mean, it doesn't perhaps make much sense to extend into the water when you have all that desert land that you can use. But it's a way to sort of embrace the water, to embrace that particular element and make it part of an urban structure of an urban development, which in this case is the Palm Island, where each villa has a view towards the water and the sea. And that continued. You have all these developments along the water, the extension of the creek, all of these are ways to utilise infrastructure and to engage in this massive reengineering of its urban landscape, to incorporate water and greenery and to move away from what is basically a desert environment at the very end.
I'll continue, then, with the line of questioning about Dubai's physical and infrastructural assets that really shaped the character of the city. And I know that you've obviously mentioned the Palm Islands, but are there any others that really stand out to you?
Yeah. I mean, clearly, I mean, there are so many elements, but I think one of the most defining features are the city's infrastructure, its highways, particularly Sheikh Zayed Road, for example, which is your main entry or gateway into the city, which is this massive highway. And as you come from Abu Dhabi, you enter into this sort of urban canyon where you have towers on the right, towers on the left, and you drive through, and it marks this very powerful way of entering into the city. So I think that's really a key element of its urban infrastructure.
And I would also add to that the Metro and the raised viaduct aspect of the Metro which has become such an important and defining feature of its urban landscape. And it continues to be developed. And I think it's really one of the city's strengths and one of its positive elements, that it has become so pervasive and continues to expand in other parts of the city.
And in terms of architectural features, I mean, there are so many, but I think one can read the city's history and development through three towers, three high-rise buildings. And the first one is the World Trade Centre, which was built in the '70s by a British architect-- designed by British architect John Harris and which still remains to this day and is affectionately called by Dubai residents Burj Rashid, the former ruler who supervised its construction. And at the time, when it was built, it was really at the outskirts of the city and people questioned the need for building a tower in a desert location. Right now, it's really in the middle of a thriving development. So that happened in the '70s.
In the '90s, not far away from this World Trade Centre, was the Emirates, the Twin Emirates Towers, and those constitute another element defining the city's architecture in terms of their very high-tech modern orientation, their distinctive profile and also, of course, because they contain the headquarters of the Dubai Executive Authority which is kind of like the Dubai government.
And then, further along, is Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, which, again, is another tower that was introduced in the 21st century. And again, it's a very distinctive feature of the city skyline. So I think through these three architectural structures, we can begin to see the city's growth and its development, and they add a very distinctive element to the city's overall landscape.
They're certainly iconic, aren't they? The next question, I suppose, is about the role that you see Dubai playing in its region. I know you've spoken about the fact that it's a liberal city among conservative neighbours, but are there any other sorts of specific roles it plays?
Yeah. I mean, again, that can be read in many different ways or seen in many different ways, but I have conceptualised it or characterised Dubai's role in terms of its influence on its neighbours. And I have described this process as a form of Dubaization in the sense that cities in the region and the inhabitants of the region look at Dubai as a sort of-- as a model in some way, as an example of a-- positive example of an Arab city that has arguably reached or is aiming to reach world-class and world-city status.
And I have looked specifically-- I originally come from Cairo, from Egypt, and I've looked at the extent by which Dubai has influenced urban developments in Egypt, and there's quite a lot to be said there. But there are direct influences, in a sense, that Dubai-based developers, whether they are private developers or government developers owned by government entities in the city, have invested in Cairo and contributed to changing its urban environment quite significantly. And in other ways, the regime in Egypt is looking at Dubai and is trying to emulate what is taking place there by copying some of these urban models and transplanting them, in a way, in a city such as Cairo.
Now, the thing is that in a place like Dubai, which, as I have argued before, is sort of operating according to its own logic and a sense of transience, temporality, of arguably exploiting an impoverished labour force to construct all these developments and being comprised of a small sort of native population and where the rest of the population is quite expendable-- so having developments like that kind of makes sense in a way. But when you come to Cairo, with it's very layered and complex social structure, where you have high degrees of inequality, where you have migrant populations coming from rural areas into the city, when you begin to have these kind of Dubai-inspired developments, then you would have a recipe for social unrest in many respects. And arguably, this is what happened during the Arab Spring in some ways. So it's quite problematic in a context such as Cairo and elsewhere if you look at Morocco - there are very similar things happening there - or Jordan. So it becomes quite problematic to implement a very similar model. It might work in Dubai given the extent of control that exists there, but it might not be so easy in a place or a city such as Cairo.
I find this comment really fascinating, Yasser, if I may say, and I recognise immediately the tendency that you're observing and also the fact that, if you like, the ingredients that you described in Dubai at the very beginning, in a sense, represent a kind of special and unique situation with some specificities that simply don't exist elsewhere. And this idea of the Dubaization of the other cities in the region, and, as I think you're saying, that the kind of distorting effect that can have in an existing city where you have these complex and more nuanced social structures and these embedded physical forms and others, this is a very interesting critique that you're making and a very interesting observation. And I suppose, in a way, you've already referred to Riyadh and to Saudi. This is, in part, what you're beginning to see there.
But I just wanted to comment, it's very interesting, and you may want to say more. I'd also like to ask, before I have to jump off, whether you think the new trading relationship with Israel marks-- do you read this as a significant thing, a significant event in the future of Dubai? Do Dubai and Tel Aviv begin to become more like one another or to develop some new relationship from this as you see it?
Yeah, I mean, I'm not sure I would be able to answer that in a sort of satisfying way. It's still, I guess, too early to tell whether that will have any sort of substantive impact. I think there is a danger here that Dubai will be perceived as sort of going against broader sentiments in the region, that it would be perceived as being sort of an outlier because of establishing such relation and also engaging-- being quite open and sort of embracing tourists and engaging in trade and so on, unlike Cairo, for example, where there have been relation with Israel, but they were quite limited in scope and range. So it's a little bit different there. But in terms of how that will impact the city, I'm not sure I can give you a good answer here. It's still too early.
I wanted to say that in the context of DNA the comment you made about Dubai's model being transplanted elsewhere is interesting because it raises this whole question about what-- the question of how to plan and how to think about cities in a way that suits their DNA, not tries to replicate and implant somewhere else's. That's a kind of conversation that Greg and I have been having and thinking about a lot as we've been studying these cities. That's just an aside. But the next question we have for you is about common misconceptions about Dubai. Which of those stand out to you? And are they right; are they wrong?
I think it really comes down to that there is a perception of the city that oscillates between two opposing poles in a way. On the one hand, the city is seen as being a playground for the rich and for the wealthy, that it's sort of this escapist place where you can enjoy exclusivity and indulging in various luxuries and so on. And on the other hand, it is a city that exploits a labour force who come from South Asia - from India and Bangladesh and Pakistan - and who are forced to live in dire conditions in labour camps. So there is this perception that the city is either this or that. And I wouldn't dispute the fact that there are elements of the city, perhaps, that would resonate with such a characterisation.
But there is also a vast middle ground that I think is not explored sufficiently or that is not looked at or that is ignored sometimes, that there are, in fact, spaces within the city itself where there is a middle class and a lower middle class who are not necessarily living in an exploitative environment or an environment that is characterised by being wealthy and exclusive but which kind of occupies a middle ground like any other city elsewhere in the world. And there are many neighbourhoods like that. Neighbourhoods such as Karama and elsewhere.
And I have looked at and researched settings within the city itself that have been appropriated by migrant workers and where you do not necessarily see a confirmation of that image of the exploited and downtrodden workers. These are people who are quite empowered in many ways and who are able to claim their right to the city in some way by coming together, hanging out on street corners and sidewalks. And you see that in neighbourhoods that are spread in various areas and locations within the city.
So I think that's something that is sometimes sort of neglected and not talked about, and a more spectacular image is being favoured or an image that is more in-line with various reports coming out by Human Rights Watch and so on about exploitation and so on. Now, I'm not saying that these things don't exist, but it's not the only element that sort of characterises the city.
I hear what you're saying. The problem is that the misconceptions often fail to capture the nuance that takes place in between. Really, really fascinating. I'd like to ask now about notable shocks in Dubai and how these shocks have changed or defined the character of the city. And when we think about shocks, we don't always think about traumas. We also sometimes think about very positive things that have happened or catalysts of periods of growth. But interpret it as you will and do tell me what are the shocks in Dubai's history as you see them, and what has the effect of those shocks been?
Yeah, I mean, there are a couple of them. One is the Gulf War. The Gulf War - the first one and the second one - where Dubai has sort of presented itself as being a safe haven in many ways whether it is the residents from Kuwait escaping from the Iraqi occupation or people from Saudi Arabia perhaps coming to Dubai to escape missiles, Scud missiles launched from Iraq. So the city has shown itself as being kind of safe from these external events.
But perhaps the event that I am maybe more familiar with because I was there when that actually happened was the 2008 financial crisis which was really a major shock for the city and leading many people at the time to question whether that particular model of development is viable. Prior to the crisis, the city was engaged in this massive real-estate speculation effort, and you could see all sorts of projects and schemes and fantasy developments coming up: hotels underwater, rotating towers and demolition of traditional neighbourhoods at a large scale. All of that was very much part of its urban paradigm, and then it suddenly stopped because of the financial crisis which eventually led to the city's inability to pay its debt. And it was rescued by Abu Dhabi.
But one of the interesting things about Dubai is its sort of ingenuity and its ability to continue irrespective of these shocks. So it was able to overcome the financial crisis in many ways and to continue with its developments. And one reason for that, I think, was its admirable focus on infrastructure in terms of development of ports and highways and the metro. All of that continued throughout the financial crisis and didn't stop. And so I think that's, I think, one of the interesting aspects of the way it has been quite resilient in many ways in overcoming some of these traumas.
And currently, of course, the crises are related to the COVID pandemic. Again, the city has been able to, to a large extent, mitigate some of the sort of negative aspects related to the pandemic; although, again, it has been able to do that given the small size of its population and its ability to control their movement in many ways which is something that is not easily achievable elsewhere. So, again, it's something that's very context-specific. But again, the extent to which it will actually overcome the crisis is still in flux. I mean, it's still very early to determine the degree of-- the degree of containing this crisis.
But I think the financial crisis, that really tells you a lot about the city and about its sort of incessant continuation of its real-estate model and continuing with that model, and arguably, one could say that it hasn't necessarily learnt its lesson. So even though it might have achieved partial success, the continued implementation of such a model that relies on real-estate speculation of placeless urban environments, of displacing people may, in the ultimate run, be not particularly sustainable or desirable.
Thank you, Yasser. What does the future hold for Dubai and how might its DNA shape this future?
Yeah. It's, again, because of that key element-- aspect of Dubai's urban development which I have characterised in terms of temporariness and transience. And I have supported that with a quote by Saudi writer Abdelrahman Munif in his book Cities of Salt where he explains the title by noting that these gleaming metropolises - across the Gulf and Dubai is perhaps a perfect example of that - are, in essence, quite temporary. And that like salt, when water sort of inundates salt, it will simply fade away and that perhaps we can see cities, such as in the Gulf, in the face of continuing crises and events in the future, that they may eventually disappear as well. Now, I wouldn't go as far as to that extreme, that the city will eventually disappear, but I think that continuing along the current mode of development, as I've argued in my last point, neglects aspects related to climate change, related to resilience and the need to accommodate an environment or to create an urban environment that is resistant, that is resilient, that would be able to withstand shocks related to climate change, related to social events and so on.
So continuing along a model that is predicated on this notion of temporariness, that is predicated on exclusiveness and segregation, that relies to a large extent on exploitation of an impoverished workforce and where you look at people in the larger scope of things as being disposable and that they can eventually be-- that they can ultimately be removed and replaced with another set of people to come in and service the larger population, all of that, I think, makes whatever is taking place quite precarious and tenuous in my view and that it is not a model that will be sustainable in the long run and that it ultimately contains, within it, seeds of discontent and that all of that can change in an instant like we saw in the financial crisis when people just started to leave the city en masse. So right now, that highly seems unlikely to happen, but if current trends continue, there is a danger for that to actually take place.
Thank you so much, Yasser. This truly has been so fascinating.