Last month I said a not-so-teary farewell to Bur Dubai, the only area of this city I’ve ever lived in, and shifted my several years’ worth of accumulated furniture, clothes and dog-eared paperbacks to the rubble-strewn no-man’s-land of Business Bay. Not the pedestrian-friendly bit that conveniently lies next to the Metro, but the dusty periphery near the Al Khail Road.
It’s a location so new (or “burgeoning”, as the real estate suits like to call it) that the road signs still smell of fresh paint and even the cockroaches have yet to find their way there.
On my street there are, so far as I can tell, four residential buildings, a few half-filled office blocks and maybe a dozen construction sites. It isn’t pretty.
Gaping pits, tectonic skeletons and semi-slabbed pavements blight the land – which makes my weekly jog around the block as perilous as doing the steeplechase among the jagged peaks of the Hindu Kush.
A nearby café promises to be “open soon”, and at the local grocery store the staff’s faces express surprise when you walk through the door after office hours, as if they thought they were the last people left on Earth after an apocalypse. Clearly business isn’t brisk in the evenings.
Give it a year or two, however, and it’ll be the new Jumeirah Lakes Towers or Marina, a bustling district with public transport links, a mini-mall and several branches of Starbucks. The vast stretch of inky water my balcony overlooks will be carved up by noisy jet skis and speedboats. Maybe there’ll be a promenade where I can go running without breaking my ankle.
Until then, I’m getting a kick out of being among the first thousand or so people to live in this nascent area. With just a handful of buildings on the street and the same faces and cars spotted every morning, I feel a sense of camaraderie with my fellow Robbs (Residents of Business Bay ©Craig Hawes).
Just the other day a new junction opened up, making my commute to work a few minutes quicker. At the traffic lights I exchanged a knowing glance with the driver of the car next to me as we both acknowledged this development. Call me soppy, but it was a beautiful moment; the antithesis of some odious git driving inches from your car’s rear and making a slitting throat gesture at you for not getting out of his way.
Admittedly not all the changes are advantageous. Sometimes unofficial short cuts are blocked off overnight, unexpectedly adding an extra ten minutes to your journey. I have at times been hopelessly lost, glancing around for familiar landmarks to get my bearings. But one half-finished skyscraper looks much like another, and I’ve ended up venting my outrage on Twitter, writing, “I AM LIVING IN AN EPISODE OF THE TWILIGHT ZONE!!!”
On a more positive note, though, I feel like I have a rare opportunity to see a real community form. I find myself hoping that my neighbours will stick around and that I’ll get to know their names and we’ll see this place grow street by street together.
Continuity is the glue of a community. I know this because my grandparents and many of their neighbours have been living in the same house in the UK since the 1950s. For most of them it’s the only house they’ve lived in since marriage.
It’s the kind of street where people pick up litter that isn’t theirs and water each other’s gardens when they go on holiday. That’s the kind of place I want to live in. Who doesn’t?
Still not everyone feels the same way. The other day I met a guy in the lift who claimed to be the first ever resident in my building. For a few weeks this man had the swimming pool all to himself and chose a different parking spot every day, just because he could. I asked him what he thought of the place so far. “It was great,” he said. “Before you lot arrived”.