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Dubai's comeback strategies: architecture and entrepreneurs

Posting in Architecture

Being home to the world's tallest building (the Burj Khalifa) isn't enough for Dubai. The emirate is pushing its extreme architecture in more over-the-top directions now that its economy has bounced back after it nearly collapsed in 2009.

As The Economist reports, Dubai's latest daring design is its plan for essentially a mini-metropolis within a metropolis: Mohammed bin Rashid City. Announced in November, it will include 100-plus hotels, the "Mall of the World" (yes, it will be the biggest on the planet), a public park that takes up more space than London's Hyde Park and the biggest entertainment complex in the Middle East.

Design and sparkly architecture are more than just eye-catching baubles in Dubai, though. As The Economist points out, they are part of the emirate's plan to diversify its economy beyond oil. Trade and tourism are doing well (hotel occupancy rates are up to 80%); so is real estate (542 apartments in a 63-story Dubai skyscraper sold out in a single day in September 2012).

But during the real-estate and architecture boom of the 2000s, many developer debts rose as vertiginously as the skyscrapers they funded. The new wave of hot properties in Dubai, such as Mohammed bin Rashid City, focus on luxury audiences, which have big demand today -- as Craig Plumb of consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle stated to The Economist. But this might not be the norm going forward; newer projects might be hard to finance as Dubai's biggest banks have been downgraded by research and ratings firm Moody's toward the end of last year.

So what could be next for Dubai, then? Already, the emirate seems to be targeting entrepreneurs, hoping to lure them with conferences and events related to building new businesses (although, as The Economist points out, there isn't a tradition of legal support for start-ups in the emirate). The biggest sign of Dubai's focus for the future: within Mohammed bin Rashid City will be nestled another city: a tech campus.

After reading this analysis, I wondered whether some of Dubai's newest residents and visitors -- obviously with the resources to afford expensive apartments, hotel rooms, and retail habits -- will have the capital to personally invest in Dubai-based start-ups in some way, without much fear of risk. What brand of tech entrepreneur, and what types of new business models, will rise in the "new" Dubai?

Image: Eugene Kaspersky/Flickr

— By on January 9, 2013, 11:43 AM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure