Has Dubai finally learned to prioritise substance over style?

Government plans to overhaul and expand Dubai’s sewerage infrastructure demonstrate the emirate’s unwillingness to prioritise style over substance

COMMENT, Projects, Dubai, Dubai municipality, Dubai sewerage, Megaprojects, Sewerage infrastructure

During the past 20 years, Dubai’s construction community has managed to garner more than its fair share of international attention. In fact, when it comes to developing headline-grabbing megaprojects, it’s fair to say that the emirate can be a bit of a show-off.

When Jumeirah Group succeeded in opening the Burj Al Arab in time for the Millennium celebrations, the world was suitably impressed. What we didn’t realise at the time was that Dubai was just getting warmed up.

The following decade saw the establishment of a string of now world-famous developments, including Dubai Marina, Palm Jumeirah, and the tallest man-made structure on the planet, Burj Khalifa. And despite major economic challenges stemming from 2008’s global economic crisis, not to mention the post-2014 oil price decline, you’d be hard-pressed to describe the 2010s as quiet. So far this decade, our industry has delivered Dubai Metro, Al Maktoum International Airport, and Dubai Water Canal – a project so large that its completion had to be confirmed by satellite photography.

Yet in addition to international acclaim, this penchant for the spectacular has earned Dubai a certain degree of criticism on the world stage – an oft-heard accusation being that the emirate values style over substance.

From a development perspective, there might have been some legitimacy to this claim in years gone by. However, as Dubai’s construction sector continues to mature, the argument is beginning to look increasingly tired, not least because of the emirate’s ongoing infrastructure-related investments.

Consider Dubai Municipality’s (DM) plans to commence work on an $8.2bn (AED30bn) deep-tunnel sewerage system in 2019 (page 8). Designed to meet the local population’s long-term requirements for used-water collection, treatment, reclamation, and disposal, the project is expected to complete approximately half way through the next decade.

Interestingly, the minds behind the initiative are already referring to it as the ‘development of the century’. Ten years ago, such language would probably have been reserved for the aforementioned headline-grabbing megaprojects. That Dubai is placing such importance on a sewerage project – albeit a staggeringly ambitious one – is indicative of its ever-growing willingness to prioritise function over fashion.

That said, for what it’s worth, I think officials may have been a little hasty in dubbing this project the ‘development of the century’. If they succeed in hitting their 2025 completion target, the deep-drainage system is going to have to fight off contenders for 75 years before it can lay permanent claim to the moniker. Even the world’s glitziest sewer is going to struggle to defend its title for that length of time.

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