One day in July a team of construction workers secured a block of reinforced concrete to create a significant piece of human history. This was the moment when the Burj Dubai became the tallest building on earth, surpassing the record of 1,671ft (509m) set three years previously by a tower in Taipei. Lest another country uses the Burj as a benchmark to plan something even taller, nobody's saying how high the tower will eventually be, nor how long the project will take. One estimate puts the eventual height at more than 3,000ft. Fanciful? In Dubai, anything seems possible.
When the cranes are eventually dismantled the Burj is expected to contain 30,000 homes and nine hotels, but the amenities are of secondary importance. What matters most is that Dubai has trumped the world again. Not content with the largest marina, man-made harbour, artificial island and even motorway intersection, the Emirate is building what could become the world's busiest airport, even though the existing one is the busiest and best-appointed in the Gulf.
The rise of an obscure, dusty fragment of the Arabian peninsula to global prominence in the blink (historically) of an eye dates from the discovery of oil in 1966. But oil is not the whole story. Neighbouring Abu Dhabi is floating on a sea of the stuff, without achieving anything like Dubai's impact. The secret lies in the vision of the Al Maktoum dynasty, which runs the city-state like a family business. Oil reserves, the Maktoums realised, are finite Dubai's will be exhausted around 2025 so they diversified into commerce and tourism to create an economy to outlast it.
Dubai is no Shangri-La. The city has been built by a workforce imported mainly from the Indian sub-continent, whose average wage is shockingly low in relation to the Western middle-class incomers who make Dubai's commercial wheels spin. An Indian construction worker would take five months to earn the price of one night in the iconic Emirates Towers hotel.
One offshore island is being manufactured in the shape of a palm, its houses are on stilts which will be arranged to spell out an Arabic poem when viewed from the air. It was written by Dubai's founding sheikh and includes the line: "Great men rise to great challenges." Dubai has certainly surmounted every challenge it's faced.
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