Practicality or vanity?

Rumours of the Arabian Canal project were circulating long before it was officially announced at Cityscape in October.

COMMENT, Projects

There were murmerings about the Arabian Canal long before the project was officially announced at Cityscape in October.

But although it's being billed as a 'wonder of the engineering world' (and the 'biggest' in Dubai to date) the actual announcement missed the fanfare that came with the likes of other pioneering projects in the emirate, such as Dubai Metro, the Burj Dubai and the reclaimed islands.

It could be because superlative-laced marketing isn't holding as much sway these days. Or maybe it's down to the fact that the great wonders of canal engineering actually date back to the tenth century, with the Grand Canal of China staking its claim as being the first.

Then along came the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and the one that sparked 'canal mania' in Britain in the early stages of the industrial revolution, the Bridgewater Canal.

Traditionally, canals were designed with a function in mind: transporting goods cheaply and quickly and boosting trade links. While the Panama and Suez canals still operate in a cargo-carrying capacity, many of the smaller ones in the likes of Britain and France have been transformed into historical landmarks and are now used for pleasure boating.

Originally planned under Nakheel's remit, the Arabian Canal project was handed over to its sister developer, Limitless, earlier this year.

It will indeed be an engineering challenge, much in the same way the Dubai Creek extension has been. And at a cost of $11 billion and extending 75km in length, its progress will no doubt be watched every step of the way.

But is carving a canal out of the desert really necessary? Yes, it will provide more prime space for lucrative waterfront development, particularly with it becoming increasingly difficult to dredge sufficient sand for man-made islands.

It might also cut the journey time for ships heading into the emirate's port - if used for this purpose - although at the moment it's difficult to imagine a combination of abras, yachts and cargo vessels happily sauntering along the canal side-by-side.

Either way, the Arabian Canal will change the shape of Dubai. Although its purpose might not exceed yet another display of architectural vanity.

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