Urban Future: Planning the City of Dubai, 1977-1981

Felino Palafox, Jr.
Principal Architect - Urban Planner
Palafox Associates, Makati

A desert, a creek, not a single kilometer of paved road — this was Dubai in the 1960s. His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum had a vision of a "Modern Dubai" and had given planners, architects, and engineers five important tasks: 1) Design Dubai as if there is no oil; 2) plan a city for two million people (the population was 270,000 in 1977); 3) create a garden city out of the desert; 4) travel around the world and learn from the best practices; and 5) bring Dubai from third- to first-world status, and make it a pacesetter city in the Middle East and North Africa in 15 years. Looking back after 41 years, Dubai now is a global gateway city and a polycentric metropolis.

To take Dubai well into the 21st century in less than 15 years, cities such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, San Francisco, Zurich, and Geneva, among other model cities that became “first world cities” in less than 15 years, were studied. In 1977, Dubai was already building seaports, dry docks, airports, tall buildings, industrial parks, landscaped gardens in the desert, tree-lined boulevards, etc. In less than eight years, Dubai’s port became one of the most significant in the world. Successful cities have five ingredients: visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, and good governance. Dubai now presents its own useful lessons, gained by transforming from an “instant city” to a polycentric metropolis.