The Dubai Metro is opening today. Dubai TV and its sister channels will be broadcasting the event live. Over the past few years, the way the people of Dubai have viewed this landmark project has changed; from confusion of its purpose and questioning of its timing to pride of the punctual delivery on the project's promised date (09/09/09) and the comprehension of the economic and social effects it will have on the city.
However, the most important fact of the Metro is its actual establishment. In other words, in a city which had until now been developing real estate ahead of its corresponding infrastructure, the opening of the Metro in such a globally difficult year signifies a shift in the way the government addresses urban development.
Think of any city around the world which you would consider a metropolis and it has a subway/metro system of some kind. Furthermore, think of any city that has a relatively high GDP per capita and does not have a metro and you will find that you are looking at vacation spots and not actual vibrant cities. More than anything the Metro is nothing else but a certificate of graduation from a city to a metropolis. Why is that? It is so because a metro is the manifestation of a city's commitment to its people; all of its people. The Metro is a metaphysical act of gathering and a bare exercise at attempting social cohesion. The Metro is ultimately a non-curated exhibition of identities.
The Metro is brutal that way, even with the first cabin split between gold card holders and women and children, the remaining cabins demand you to coexist with anyone that may sit next to you; this is an incredibly radical situation that will alter the way we look at each other. Until the Metro came along you could - to put it crudely - to a significant extent filter your surroundings and edit your environment. Those who ate at Ravi's and those who dined at Bice's rarely met, save zebra crossings and neutral areas at shopping malls; but even then those were fleeting moments.
On the train, sitting in the cabin, where people from all walks of life are seated by your side day in and day out a curiosity will ensue. Perhaps you may not take a substantial interest in your fellow Metro riders but some of your notions of them will be dispelled - or reconfirmed.
Another point which the Metro will change is distance. It is said that before oil and cars in Dubai, the Bedouins (as close as in Al Awir) had significantly longer teeth than those who lived and fished by the creek, because of their mainly meat based diet; Cars changed that and the diets were democratised. Similarly, the Metro will alter the perception of distance and the proximity of the other.
Over the past 10 years, Dubai has been slowly emerging as a sum of cluster zones where its inhabitants would spend most of their time, saving the drive to work; this is mainly due to the heavy traffic which Dubai suffered from on its main routes until the major infrastructure works that were recently delivered.
So you essentially had a situation where those who lived in the Marina would consider Jumairah a venture and would not think of crossing the bridges to Deira and likewise, those who lived in Mizhar would consider Mall of the Emirates only on the weekend and many of them have been to the Jumeirah Beach Residence only once so far. The Metro will change this too. Soon it will be possible to leave work from the Emirates Towers at 7pm and taking the Metro (station No 23 on the Red Line) and changing at Union (station No 18 on the Red Line and No 20 on the Green Line) to the Green line and then getting off at Baniyas Square (station No 21) and enjoying an evening in one of Deira's most urban areas.
The issue is not trying to battle the emergence of self sufficient districts within the city - that is a natural development of any large metropolitan city - but rather recognising that we, as nationals and long term residents, are now able to rediscover our city and that we, the newly arrived expatriates, are now able to see different faces of Dubai.
And so whenever you feel curious or adventurous: ride the metro& its optional after all.
Mishaal Al Gergawi is an Emirati commentator on socio-economic and cultural affairs in the UAE.