Palm Island Dubai, Villas, Developments

Palm Island Dubai

Dubai is shooting up in more ways than one. The Crown Prince, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum, has expressed determination that the state will one day be the region's leader in finance and commerce. And where there is money, there will be skyscrapers. Since the property and residency laws for non Dubaians were relaxed there has been a gold rush to buy and build. Palm Island is part of Dubai's architectural efflorescence and is one of the most striking testaments to the wealth and ambition of this state.

Such has been the enthusiasm for property development that more or less every square inch of Dubai's coastline now has a building on it. This has not proved a problem, though: land is now being reclaimed from the Gulf to build new coastline in the form of a series of islands. Palm Island huge and increasingly dotted with villas owned by the likes of David and Victoria Beckham and Michael Owen is the first to be completed, having taken only two years to construct. Although the residences on this new addition to Dubai are still being built, they are not available all the potential housing sold out a few hours after it was put on the market. Which is a shame considering the island, supposedly visible from space, has been dubbed the eighth wonder of the world. But there are other options: namely a second, bigger Palm Island and, towards the end of the decade, a development called the World. This ambitious sounding project features a few hundred islands shaped like wait for it different countries. Once you've bought your island, you can do what you like with it (which makes a few xenophobic jokes spring to mind: we won't go there).

There is certainly a lot to be impressed by in Dubai, but there are some things to ponder too. For one thing, its economy was initially built on oil wealth, which puts it in an interesting position socially and politically. Economies that are dependent on one natural resource, the tapping of which does not require the participation of the majority of the population, are called 'rentier'. Rentier states attract labour and skills from outside while theoretically securing the support of their own citizens by spending a large proportion of the rentier income on social concerns welfare, education, tax relief and so on (although in Dubai's case only primary education is compulsory).

But oil the usual rentier resource is a fickle friend. The founder of OPEC once described its negative influence in memorable but here unrepeatable terms. There is an argument that social and political cohesion do not come exclusively, or even primarily, from wealth. There is also an argument that in the long term for both internal and external reasons oil is actually a catalyst for a country's decline, not growth. Dubai's fortune was built on oil but in contrast to other more oil rich areas in the Arab region it was endowed with only a small amount which the emirate, in its characteristically hard working style, made careful use of. And it has subsequently made good use of its financial and trade links. So it can hardly be called a rentier state in the classic sense. Nonetheless, as we said above, there are some questions to ponder. The eventual outcome of Dubai's financial and commercial boom remains to be seen.