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Sat 2 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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Dubai: a young city growing old

Forget the 'out with the old' attitude in regard to the emirate's buildings, says ASGC's Bishoy Azmy.

With all the superlative projects being announced in this emirate at an almost daily rate, players in the industry can be understandably excused for thinking: ‘What next?'

Dubai is, by many standards, a young city. Stretches of virgin land are as yet undeveloped, and the majority of buildings within the emirate are less than 20 years old. But with the current rate of development, and with the inevitable sobering effect of time, this is bound to change.

Sooner rather than later, Dubai will resemble other great bustling metropolises such as Paris, New York, Delhi and Singapore, in which space has become the scarcest of resources.

As Dubai grows and thrives, there will be limits as to how far its borders can be stretched. At the same time, the older parts of town are becoming less and less valuable and attractive, due to the dilapidated state of their buildings and the lack of modern amenities within them. Take for example the area around Dubai Creek, which was prime location in ‘Old Dubai' in the 1960s and ‘70s. Along both sides of the water were located the most prosperous bazaars, the most affluent banks and, in fact, the ruler's residence as well. Today, that same area is a shadow of its former self, and has greatly lost its eminence.

Other areas in Deira and Bur Dubai share the same fate, having being displaced by newer, more modern locations like Dubai Marina and a plethora of other upstart communities.

This trend of continuous new builds and neglect of old builds cannot be sustained forever. Dubai has to wake up to the concepts of ‘renovation' and ‘refurbishment'.

The current local construction industry is almost unilaterally focused on new construction, but soon all the different stakeholders within the industry, from owners and developers to designers and contractors, must embrace the need to maintain, preserve, rejuvenate and re-glorify older structures of all sorts. The role authorities have in encouraging and regulating this stream of construction is also of utmost importance.

Taking the UK as an example; national surveys indicate that the renovation and refurbishment business is a major segment of the construction industry, representing almost half of all work done, in terms of value as well as number of people employed.

This drive addresses three vital aspects of the city's well-being; firstly it helps solve the impeding shortage of space, secondly it prevents older parts of town from descending into oblivion and becoming an eyesore, thirdly it assists in creating a cultural and historical value to the city through ensuring the preservation of its buildings.

As cities grow old, the importance of renovation and refurbishment grows to such an extent that it arguably becomes one of the key factors in determining the continuing success, beauty and attractiveness of a place. One has to just briefly breeze through Vienna and then Mexico City to agree. Let us all do our part in nudging Dubai towards the right road.

Bishoy Azmy is deputy general manager at ASGC.

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