To be fair, if it wasn’t for thousands of other cities that are oil dependent by design, there wouldn’t even be a Dubai. So in one sense it is fitting that Dubai be a celebration of machine transportation, a triumph over nature, completely artificial, and all of that. It’s a trading post along a modern silk road, in this case the shipping lanes between the oil fields and the US where most of that oil goes to be turned into smog. No wonder this city reminds me of Singapore. Both are as spectacular as sets for Aida, and will be discarded as readily when the trade of tomorrow follows new routes.
Still, there are plenty of good reasons to study these fly-by-night cities. One is for the stark image they give us of what can go wrong when architects lose sight of people on foot or on bike.
Jetlag and a delayed flight afforded me an opportunity this evening to try to do something I have tried on a bike many times in other cities, only this time in the manner of Will Self. I tried to leave the vicinity of the airport on foot. When I arrived in Dubai this morning I paced, misdirected, in the heat and fumes of the taxi ranks looking for the curtesy shuttle bus bay. After dragging my suitcase two lengths of the concourse, in Dubai’s heat, I then had to wait for the next bus to arrive. What frustrated me most at that point, was I could see my hotel! When presently the shuttle bus was hurling my dehydrated overtired body past the other two terminals, you can be sure I wasn’t thinking of an ironic blog post. I was thinking of pretty girls’ faces, anything, not throw up.
It would be my gift to other weary travellers, and myself when I pass by here again, to discover some way of walking the short distance, just 280 meters, from the airport to the airport hotel.
Okay, from my little photo essay there, you can see that I failed. According to the driver of the courtesy bus who got me home in the end, there is a tunnel, only it’s private, for employees of the airline.
When anything is presented as “for our convenience” or “as a courtesy” to us, we should know it’s a rip off. Taxis, courtesy buses, hire cars and parking stations for our own cars all fall into that category. Metros aren’t a lot better, at least not in cities like Dubai and Singapore where they funnel you into shopping arcades: in planner-speak it’s called land “land value capture”; in plain speak, it’s strong-arming the public into paying for their metro once more, this time with $5 doughnuts.
My complaint though is that most of these so-called conveniences are just thwarting trips that would be actually be convenient if all those conveniences were put on a truck and dumped out of sight. If Dubai was compact and built with covered ways, as the old parts still are, I could have ridden a bike to the beach and back in the time it just took me to write this complaint. I would have had an extra two hours to spare today, had I been able to walk between the airport and the hotel. I would not be timing my imminent trip back to get on a plane around the half-hourly schedule of some courtesy buses. I wonder if one of these guys would be willing to dink me?