Friday, November 03, 2006

A Walk in the Marina

Chapter 2: Passion or Obsession?
Chapter 3

The summer air is hot, even at 6:30 a.m. A warm breeze blows in from the Gulf some 200-300 meters away. Despite a slight feeling of discomfort the sight of the morning sun's golden rays is invigorating as it strikes the facades of towers rising nearby and in the distance. The canal that runs the length of the 3.5 kilometer Marina narrows and widens intermittently, bending at either end to meet up with the sea. Around its perimeter wraps a 5-meter wide promenade. It follows the canal's bends and turns providing up to 11 kilometers of pavement for runners and cyclists to have a go at in cooler months.

There are few other pedestrians to greet at this hour of the day. Gardeners, sweepers, security guards, other workmen and attendants can be seen in the areas that have already been built up. Some construction workers are already busy at the various building sites while bus loads of others arrive. Their blue uniforms look bright and crisp in the morning sun. On closer view, however, many are dusty and stained. The faces of some workers both young and middle-aged already look tired, although some are quite cheeky as they jostle and joke around with co-workers.

Accompanying the labor force are machines that pound, lift, level and tread among the construction sites and the roadways that surround them. At early morning the sounds are muted, but reach a crescendo as the level of activity peaks with the rising of the morning sun. Only at noon do things begin to quiet down with a government mandated mid-day work stoppage. In former years there was no respite for workers who continued to labor through the afternoon, as temperatures soared to 45 Celsius and above.

Small boats and yachts gently bob in the water at the Marina's only dock, located near the mouth of the canal. This area is commonly referred to as Phase 1, the site of the Marina's original tower project. It consists of 6 towers varying in height from 20 to 40 floors and perched atop an extended podium base. The podium encloses concealed levels of parking and the Marina Walk, a mall of mostly restaurants and a few shops. A $1,000,000 fountain along with smaller fountains decorate the plaza that opens up at the center of the complex. The main fountain spurts up streams of water at irregular intervals. When children are present they regularly dash in and out racing to avoid the blasts.

Phase 1 gradually became the center of life at the Marina following a quiet beginning, when in 2003 the first towers opened for residence and the restaurant mall followed a year later. A final jewel in the crown of the Phase 1 development are the villas that surround the towers atop the podium base. They create an attractive architectural mix of high-rise and uptown residences. The villas are surrounded themselves by palms and other greenery, which from ground or plaza level create the effect of hanging gardens.

The literature, often seen, which describes the Marina is largely uncritical. A city within a city is one of the most common boasts. But if the Dubai Marina is a city, then it is one without schools, medical facilities, government offices and even parks. None of these facilities or services have yet been started or announced. What is sure to be in ready supply are shopping venues, typically with expensive boutique offerings. Still, one will probably not be able to pick-up any new furniture for their pricey new home, it will be impossible to buy or service a car there, and at present there isn't even a sign of any filling stations. The Marina is more a residential resort community, but of the size and density of a compact urban center.

Another reference commonly made is that of the Marina having distinct districts--ten, the number usually given--spread out across its length. Any suggestion of the kind is nothing more than promotional propaganda. What districts that might be identified will have, largely, been artificially construed. Where dividers of some sort--roads, bridges and the Marina canal itself--may come to have an effect on segmenting the larger community, the distinctiveness of one district from another is likely to be non-existent or imperceptible. Anyone who knows NYC, for example, must never expect to find a Greenwich Village, an Upper East or West Side, a Harlem or anything of the sort. Rich and flavorful districts and communities of this kind cannot be manufactured by a city or property developer.

That being said, the 3.5 kilometer stretch of the Marina does have some distinct features which seem to have emerged by chance rather than planning. The Phase 1 area does have a unique quality due simply to the fact that, compared to anywhere else in the Marina, it has a history--a full three years worth! As morning progresses on Fridays, especially during cooler months, this part of the Marina is a buzz with hawkers selling trinkets and knickknacks at stalls, diners seated at outdoor tables and children playing at the fountains.

By contrast, the far end of the Marina has a more introverted character that will probably remain so, even once most construction activity has ended. It straddles the large Dubai Electricity and Water Authority plant, a clearly less desirable area to settle in. Although towers are rising there too, the area is quieter and less likely to have shoppers and diners about. In that sense, the unfortunate nearness of a huge power plant may inadvertently result in a neighborhood that is nonetheless pleasant for being more tranquil.

Alas, there are no public parks in the Marina, and the wide beach which fronts the Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR), a 40-tower complex, is likely to be inundated with sun-worshipers. It is billed as the largest single-phase residential property development in the world, a boast that seems credible. No doubt the JBR will also emerge as a distinct community--one of mostly expatriate, non-resident apartment owners and the European guests they hope to lure in for short-stays. It will be a beach culture of the exclusive and perhaps snobbish variety.

In any event, the Dubai-resident owners who have purchased properties with sea-facing views will benefit from the year-long opportunity to enjoy the rejuvenating charms of the sea. Others scattered throughout the Marina may have a difficult time of finding any open vistas that a park or beach might offer. For most residents the only public beach access will be kilometers away as all other beach property is being managed by exclusive hotels and resorts.

What about pollution--air, water, noise--transportation options, policing, roadworks, etc. Emaar, the master-developer for the Marina, is in a sense the government. It collects taxes in the form of management fees and is responsible for roadworks, security and other concerns. Furthermore, these responsibilities will be divided somewhat among the individual property developers, who will be expected to build in some extent of services for the residents of their respective properties. Security is already one of the most visible functions being carried out on a property-by-property basis. But how effective will this type of security arrangement be in the long run? The municipality of Dubai has in many ways taken a hands-off approach to Dubai Marina and other new city developments.

For the enthusiast like myself, however, these are all challenges not obstacles to enjoying a high quality of life in the Dubai Marina. Above all, the community is a work in progress. In 2005 it was still largely a construction site; in 2006 the same can be said. 2007 will likely be no different, with only 2008 finally seeing a leveling off of construction activity and the emergence of a real, living and breathing community. At that point in time, it will begin to develop a unique character and one probably very much unlike that portrayed in the sales and promotional literature.

A walk in the Marina may lead one to think about such things. Or, perhaps, more likely, one will take note of the towers rising on either side of the canal and in the vicinity--some 300 in all, including those of the adjacent Jumeirah Lake Towers development. The towers will stand out above all else, if not for their number then for their height. In due course, some of the towers will rise above 100 storeys.

The three bridges that cross the center length of the canal will each come into view, along with one other which connects the Marina to Dubai via a coastal thoroughfare. In addition to the three dozen or so boats docked at the head of the Marina, one will also notice, oddly, small craft anchored in the middle of its wider parts and in the knobby fingers that poke into the adjoining banks.

A closer look at the water and one will spot floating debris, most of it blown by the wind or flushed into the canal from neighboring construction sites. Though largely free of odor, the water in the 5+ meter deep channel has a deep blue and sometimes greenish hue. It mirrors the surrounding towers at both daylight and at night, that is, when it is not stirring in the normally light sea breezes.

Like the promenade that lines the canal there is only a limited amount of traffic on the water. Most boat owners appear to let their pleasure craft sit unperturbed between the odd cleanings. Also undisturbed are the skies above, which thanks to the sea's proximity are often a clear blue. The same cannot be said when one looks inland.

Except for the plaza at Phase 1, howevr, the Dubai Marina is not yet a community, much less a city. As one prepares to take an invigorating stroll along the prominade, he should keep in mind that there are no benches yet to rest on, no shops to pick-up a refreshing drink at, and even the promenade is in places barricated, forcing one to either abandon his trek or navigate in the sand around construction sites. Dubai Marina and the eventual community or communities that will emerge there will remain under development for some time to come.

In the final analysis, Dubai Marina, even in its present state, is an incredible achievement. Less than a decade ago it was but a barren strip of coastal desert, without even the Marina canal whose construction began in the late 1990's. It is one of the largest of the numerous grand projects announced in Dubai over the past several years and one of the first to have become, at least in part, a reality.

1810 (this post), total 5126 words
Chapter 4: Hyderabad


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Bruce,

This aticle makes for nice reading material!


Sat Feb 17, 04:19:00 PM 2007  

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