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Let’s promote a heritage-building culture in Dubai

Real estate will grow and flourish, but there is a need to preserve landmarks that form part of a rich repertoire of sentimental value

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Tourism is one of Dubai's key sectors.
Gulf News

Many people from around the world are not familiar with the Gulf region until Dubai is mentioned. We have managed to become a symbol of extraordinary real estate projects, which have made headlines in the world’s biggest news and media agencies. In 2012, Dubai attracted 10 million tourists from different parts of the globe; most of them rushed from the airport to see those famous projects for themselves.

On the other hand, Dubai residents are always the last ones’ to experience the Emirate’s glamour. We tell ourselves that it is too crowded and that there will always be time for sightseeing. Personally, from among my ten immediate family members, only two of us have managed to reach the top of Burj Khalifa, solely due to the fact that it was a school trip. The rest of us strongly believe that “It’s too crowded” or “One day, it’s not going anywhere”.

The people of Dubai prefer to spend their free time in places they are familiar and comfortable with. We like to see the same waiters and if we are lucky, sit at our favourite tables. Ironically, we also like minimum change throughout our routine. Whether it is our daily drive to work and the buildings we see en route or the neighbourhood laundry that we trust so much. Many of the laundries and grocery shops were established in Dubai neighbourhoods years before any roads were paved. A friend of mine still drives 35 minutes to his old neighbourhood once a week, only to drop off his precious wardrobe for laundry purposes. He says, he prefers the hangers there.

Sentimental value is highly regarded in the minds of Dubai residents. The rapid changes around us force us to attach ourselves to anything that originally remained standing between the new buildings and the construction sites.

As such, we are deeply hurt when our favourite outlets are shut down or in some cases, demolished. The winding down of the old Hard Rock Cafe prompted people to speak up and plead to the parties concerned to reconsider their decision of demolishing a major piece of Dubai’s modern history. As stakeholders, we believe our voice should be heard to a certain degree. Dubai residents spoke through news columns, web forums and different social networking platforms. We hoped that someone might hear us.

Dubai 92’s Catboy gave up on the bid to keep the building standing. He requested to acquire the two guitars and the globe on top of the building to save a small part of the monument, until the unfortunate accident of course. For years, the two guitars sent us to Abu Dhabi with a pleasant farewell and welcomed commuters arriving from the capital. It provided people with an initial taste of Dubai. Apparently, the guitars of the new Hard Rock Cafe in Festival City are going to be the biggest in the world. I cannot help myself from wondering if we really do need another achievement of this sort?

Another unfortunate story is one of Dubai’s oldest hotels, the Metropolitan Hotel on Shaikh Zayed Road. Most of us cannot disagree that a certain venue of the hotel needed some revision. However, to many families, the Metropolitan was the weekend lunch spot. Parents with their children drove to the vintage hotel and enjoyed the comfortable surroundings and familiar faces. Foreign businessmen who flew in on annual basis since the 1970s and closely observed Dubai’s development preferred to stay at one of the city’s originals, the Metropolitan. We would love to see an Opera House open in Dubai, but the opportunity cost in this particular case was too high.

This final example may not mean much to many, yet, it may be worth mentioning. The once great landmark known as Chicago Beach Hotel has been transformed to become one of Dubai’s best known pieces of architecture. Jumeirah Group’s achievement is truly astonishing, especially with the Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

One weekend morning, when the demolition of the Chicago Beach Hotel was planned, a child stood on his balcony and watched the entire process take place. Tiny particles of the building flew into the child’s yard at the moment of the implosion. The child saved some of those particles — it was his first loss. He lost the place where he was taught how to swim and where for the first time he experienced a big red lobster, like the ones he saw in the movies.

One can be certain that our children may have the same feelings towards places they grew up in or had any of their many ‘firsts’ in. The child always wanted to take his own grandchildren, one day, on the same trip his grandfather took him on around the creek. He was shown the roof where his father was taught English and the spot on the Creek from where young men used to jump into the water and compete in swimming between Deira and Bur Dubai. The child worried that maybe all the places he wanted to show his grandchildren would disappear before they were even born.

We do and always will support real estate development in Dubai. We want to see our city at par with the world’s biggest cities in terms of real estate and all significant industries. We also want to savour parts of Dubai’s modern history. London and New York have implemented a system whereby certain buildings cannot be demolished if certain criteria are met. Those buildings are landmarks and represent the development of these cities. Perhaps we can consider a similar approach. Dubai Municipality can maintain the right to assess old buildings and decide, whether or not, a certain building is a landmark. This article may not contain many convincing examples, but I read somewhere that the life expectancy of Burj Khalifa is a full century. What is going to happen to it after 100 years?

Personally, I am not looking forward to the day when the Clock Roundabout in Deira is replaced with a more efficient bridge. People are capable of managing their time better and depart for their meetings on time.

Mohammad Sultan Janahi is an Emirati social affairs commentator.