Why Dubai isn't a plastic city

Those who think the emirate lacks culture are wrong, argues Salma Awwad

How many times have you heard the complaint “Dubai lacks culture, it’s a plastic city,” from residents of the city?

To me, it’s all too familiar. 

The number of times I have heard this comment or a variation of it is countless. And my reaction is always the same: “Dubai very much has culture, it might not be what you’re expecting, but it’s definitely there.”

It’s true that vis-à-vis the big cosmopolitan cities in the world – New York, Paris, London, Hong Kong, etc – Dubai has a relatively young history. But when it comes to culture, the city has a unique identity all its own.

What is culture after all? Simply, it’s manifestations of human intellectual achievement such as the arts, ideas, customs, and social behaviours.

In a mere 50 years, Dubai went from desert land to a business and tourism haven. Its massive expansion and evolving infrastructure and rapid development is unparalleled by any other city in the world and it’s engraving its name solidly on the global map by following through on unique visions and reaching new heights.

And that sense of speed and daring spirit is reflected in its everyday way of life.

Fast paced. Bright lights. Overnight changes. Twenty-four hours. Seven days a week. There is always something happening in the city and new initiatives are taken by the government and private entities on a continuous basis towards evolving the lifestyle and expanding the art scene in Dubai.

Without government initiatives, wealthy individuals, wealthy corporations and wealthy banks supporting artists the world over, there would have been none of the international artistic heritage that we admire today. A similar movement is finally taking place here in Dubai for the Middle East.

This month, for example, marks the inaugural Dubai Art Season, the city’s umbrella arts initiative, launched by Dubai Culture & Arts Authority (Dubai Culture.

It has lined up more than 150 creative activities from March 14 to April 15, underlining the city’s status as a global creative hub. It also unites five of the city’s premier arts events including Art Week, the Middle East Film & Comic Con and Gulf Film Festival. Art Week celebrates three flagship events, SIKKA Art Fair, Design Days Dubai, and Art Dubai, with several panel discussions, workshops, performances, outdoor art projects and exhibitions also held.

To me, Dubai is a culture of pushing beyond the boundaries, exploring emerging talent and testing the limits of human imagination and ingenuity.  And if we take the time to break out of everyday routine and look around us, we will discover that there is more to this city than meets the eye, or than we give it credit for.

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Posted by: Amman

If the children love Dubai, and then some, who cares about anything else...? ;)

Posted by: P. MADHUSUDAN

What is definitely not a plastic city. The Arabs have a culture dating back to several centuries. 50 years back Dubai was just a fishing village. Today it is a metropolis, the business hub of the Middle East. As for its cultural scene, I find it more interesting than many of the "plastic" cities of the West. Unfortunately, the "Coca Cola culture" seems to be taking over and that must be stopped by all concerned.

Posted by: Paul

I am not accusing Dubai of anything, I am just pin-pointing the fact that Dubai lacks the main ingredient to stimulate a culture fed by different levels of society and being admired for it.
Dubai is a man-made project ? just like Singapore ? but what distinguishes one from another is its rule of law, taking into account human rights and dignity of all tiers of society.
All cities you quoted are more than 400 years old (some are 1000?s years old), and their inhabitants are in a great majority, natives (not passersby like Dubai) thus all have solid and vibrant cultures, buildup along its centuries and millenniums.
As for the lower society tiers? rights, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City, have created the conditions to improve the living standards of their less fortunate citizens (introducing laws and stimulating sustainable economies). Cairo and Mumbai suffer from a culture where the lower tiers have limited value just like in most of the Arab world and subcontinent.

Posted by: WHJ

@ whatever. And yet, for some reason, you have been provoked into "taking aim" yourself without actually adding any "substance" to the discussion. Nothing but rhetoric intended to insult. The reason, of course, is because you actually have nothing to say. But then again, what can you expect from someone whose main contribution is a borrowed phrase from looney toons cartoon.....lol.

Posted by: whatever

he he
Hilarious at times watching WHJ. Boring mostly.

He loves to take swipes, usually because he has willfully/woefully misunderstood what people have said.
Then takes aim because he is confronted with his own inadequacies. Best form of defence is attack huh.

So, as in the looney toons cartoon, he says "that's all folks" and with that he disappears to lick his wounds.

No substance at all.

Posted by: WHJ

@Doug. Is that really what I've been saying? Is that what my original point was? Hmmm....
it's been fun old boy...see you on the next topic...

Posted by: Doug

@WHJ - I never said Dubai lacked culture, did I? I just took issue with your original point which was that Dubai was all about modernity and luxury and so if people wanted culture, they should go live somewhere else because they 'obviously' hated Dubai.

Now it appears you're championing how Dubai is a cultural beacon. Can you make your mind up? What exactly is your point? Is it still the same one that you always make, namely anyone who thinks Dubai could do better should just leave the UAE, because Dubai is perfect exactly the way it is.

Posted by: Fahd

@ Omar, I love your post and I will add to it, the dogs bark but Dubai moves on. Every once in a while, it is great to remind the perpetual whiners to pack and leave the Golden Shores of Dubai and the Arabian Gulf to their respective countries whose economies are still in the quicksand of the global economic crisis.

Posted by: Omar is back

Everything in life is as is. You don't like Dubai, LEAVE TODAY but nobody does. I said it in 2009 and I repeat it today. UAE doesn't force anybody to come here. In the contrary, UAE doesn't offer citizenship yet people from all over the world die to come here. Why?? Bcz it's better than their own country and subsequently culture!! Let's face it. Our own cultures and countries are really suffering and have fundamental problems. UAE is the best bcz they have the unique culture that Zayed and Rashed established and their sons are following and their grandsons will follow. It's the best culture ever and this is why their country is advancing across all indexes while the cultures of our own are falling down, really down. Don't moan, look closer to home, an article written by AB in 2009 and my comment back then, wait Dubai will be stronger than ever, and here we are!!!

Posted by: Mariam Mohammed

I agree with You Omar 100% if you don't like Dubai please leave. I am from India and lived in Dubai for 20 years Alhamdullilah and have travelled to most places around the Globe and believe me there is no place like Dubai. Dubai is a blend of different cultures and religion and we live here with peace and harmony. Allah has been so kind to this city even incase of natural calamities He has kept us safe. Thanks to the Rulers of Dubai for providing us with such an atmosphere of peace and harmony.

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