I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s 8 Time Zones Away

Imagine what a US city would be like if it had been built from the ground up after 1960, and had an unprecedented amount of wealth poured into its creation?

World class public transportation, all fully automated? Wide, well designed streets? Sparkling tall buildings?

You’re describing Dubai, and Abu Dhabi as well. These two cities were small towns seventy years ago, before the money from huge oil supplies and the proliferation of air conditioning turned them from desert outback into what is arguably the most modern metropolises  on earth.

Today, there is a mall with a ski slope. It’s kept at 32°F even when it reaches 120° outside.

Both towns have a sense of opulence about them, emphasized by the curved ornateness that defines Arabic style. The sheik of each emirate has his amazing palaces, and beautiful mosques add to a westerners sense that they have somehow entered a futuristic version of the Emerald City.

If there is poverty, it’s kept well hidden. In fact, streets are remarkably clean and even the cars sparkle.  We learn that there are severe fines for littering, and even fines for not washing ones car after a warning ticket has been issued.

There are no beggars, and no homeless people to be seen. The reasons for this are complex. The most significant is that the sheiks of the UAE have done an admirable job of sharing their wealth with their own people. Most low-paid jobs are held by foreigners, frankly, and these people are highly regulated. Furthermore, the religion and culture encourage family and community assistance well beyond what is typical in the US.

There is also a certain pride that is shared, at the least, by those who come in contact with foreign tourists. “Look what we’ve done. Look what we’ve made.”

You can tell they are keeping themselves from asking “Do you have anything this beautiful back home?” They are pretty sure we don’t.

One of the landmarks that intrigued me most was a giant picture frame. We were told people could climb to the top, like the arch in St. Louis. Here, it was built to separate the much smaller town of old Dubai from the gleaming modern city. We could peer through the frame into the past, while those in the old town could look through the frame into the future.

Given the resources that have been put into these two cities, it is a gleaming future indeed.