Big Trouble in Little Dubai

Big Trouble in Little Dubai

By Geoff Manaugh
Dubai, that instant city of over-wrought architecture and slave-like laborers, is apparently on the verge of a sewage catastrophe. The BBC reports that "raw sewage is flowing into the sea close to prime tourist beaches."

"There simply is not the capacity to deal with all the human waste the city dwellers produce," we read, and so illegal dumping of untreated human sewage is taking place in the open waters of the region.

Of course, this is the same week that architect Thom Mayne gave a speech at the World Architecture Congress warning about a looming "ecological disaster" for Dubai. "It might work today," he said, referring to the city, "but the prognosis is not good for the future. It’s not going to work on many levels, from social to infrastructure and ecological. It’s going to be a disaster in ecological terms."

The reason why, he suggests, is a retraction of the state from the day to day running of the city. Dubai is–along with cities all over the world–almost entirely privatized: "The political class is no longer in charge of cities…which means there is no planning."
So is central planning the only way to avoid urban ecological disaster? Or could we somehow incentivize the use of intelligent environmental practices through the free market itself?

As urban design becomes something undertaken only by private developers and multinational corporations—something parodied to hilarious effect in Max Barry's novel Jennifer Government—how might we restore accountability to the way these cities are run?


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