I asked a colleague who had recently moved to the emirates what he thought of Dubai. “It’ll be lovely when it’s finished,” he said.
I understood what he meant: among some of the most spectacular architecture in the world, pedestrians can find themselves clambering around piles of unlaid paving slabs, using marked road crossings that lead onto rubble or tripping across desert scrubland to reach 21st Century buildings.
Take a look at the spectacular – and newly-opened this week - Infinity Tower at Dubai Marina, It sits alongside an enormous hole in the ground around which pedestrian (and vehicular) access is severely limited.
The Tecom area of Dubai with its irregular (some say 'flower-shaped') inner ring road has superb residential blocks, decent convenience shops and a handful of good restaurants and cafes. Yet the pavements (sidewalks) disappear at regular intervals dumping the pedestrian into the path of traffic or, once again, desert sand.
Tecom will doubtless be lovely when it’s finished but I find myself wondering how long it will take. This is not a Dubai problem either. In Doha the same problems are repeated around hotels and exhibition spaces and in Abu Dhabi too, walkers can find themselves diverted long distances to cross roads to malls.
And it’s not just where construction work is going on that the pedestrian gets a rough deal. Who thought the Dubai Marina Mall pedestrian access at the front of the building was acceptable? Which comedian thought that The Palm monorail terminal on the mainland was acceptable for passengers (yes, I know I’ve mentioned it before) and pedestrian crossings remain a life or death gamble (if you can see the paint on the road and if there's not a car parked on it). OK I’m drifting into the city's awful driving standards but Dubai is not a pedestrian friendly city and that driver mentality affects all manner of behavior, including construction.
Worse than that, all those countries who are queuing up to replicate the success of the emirate look set to repeat exactly the same mistakes with regard to the people who live and work there.
Some of you may of course argue that the Middle East is no place for pedestrians for much of the year anyway: travel from air-conditioned home into air-conditioned car into air-conditioned office/mall/hotel with only the briefest of sojourns into the outdoor blast furnace. You may be thinking: “Just buy yourself a car and be done with all this walking nonsense.”
I disagree. For much of the year the city is a fantastic place to walk... and don’t forget that thousands of people have no choice.
Developers must take more responsibility for the buildings they construct - that means more than just laying a few metres of exquisite marble slabs (slippery when wet) that peter out into desert scrub.
Put simply: designate an area for development and roads and pavements should be a first priority – not an afterthought.