A World within a World: Dubai’s Ambitious Project Carries On

To most developers, the idea of building an artificial archipelago of 300 islands would be considered absurd—let alone planning to build them to resemble a world map. It …

To most developers, the idea of building an artificial archipelago of 300 islands would be considered absurd—let alone planning to build them to resemble a world map. It is then fitting that such a project was conceived in Dubai—where skiing in 100-degree weather is possible and fantastic developments became almost commonplace in the boom years.

The World is among several other large-scale projects that are in the works and are partially or fully completed by Nakheel Properties, a development company owned by the emirate’s government. It is located approximately 2.5 miles away from Dubai’s shores and can be seen from space. The islands are built on an area of 5.6 miles in length and 3.7 miles in width and the average distance between each island is only 100 meters. The construction of the islands themselves was completed in January 2008.

“Welcome to your very own blank canvas in the azure waters of the Arabian Gulf. Where orchestrating your own version of paradise—whether it’s a resort hotel or condominium communities—is a much needed inoculation against the ordinary, and where you’ll discover that The World really can revolve around you,” the project’s website announces. Indeed, The World, is at Dubai’s shore, but not everyone is invited.

To build the islands, developers used over 34 million tons of rock and more than 300 million cubic meters of sand. To understand this volume another way, imagine a cube of sand whose sides are approximately 3.3 football fields long. The cost for individual islands runs between 15 to 50 million dollars with some being sold well above these prices. The sizes of the islands range from 150,000 square feet to 450,000 square feet, according to AME Info. Sale is by invitation only.

The hefty price tag and the global economic crisis don’t seem to have slowed down buyers. Some 70 percent of the islands have already been sold, according to a report in The National, a United Arab Emirates English language newspaper. Nakheel Properties itself will also be developing about 20 islands in the North American part of The World.

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Among those who paid top dollar to own a piece of the project are Dubai Infinity Holdings which will be constructing a resort on Greenland. Another UAE company, Pear Dubai, has bought an island close to Siberia for over 27 million dollars. Turkish Company MNG Holding, not surprisingly, went after Turkey. Dubai Limitless has made public that it will be building a resort on Siberia.

Other owners include Kuwait’s The Investment Dar which has bought Australia and New Zealand. Zhongzhou International, a Chinese company, will be building a resort on Shanghai. Individuals can also purchase the islands. There are rumors swirling around about which celebrity bought which island with actual confirmations too few and far between. Some developers may join islands for more space as long as they abide by Nakheel’s original design elements.

Now that construction on some of the islands has begun, some of the logistical challenges the project will face are becoming clear. Ferrying workers, construction materials, and equipment between the mainland and construction sites and between the 300 islands will be one of the greatest challenges the project will face, according to The National. Some ideas on the table are setting up a cement plant on one of the islands to be used by all developers. Another idea is to build accommodation for workers. However, all these come with their own set of problems.

Not far behind the logistical problems is the challenge of solving the issue of sewage and utility delivery. Nakheel Properties is working with electric, water and sewage authorities to ensure that infrastructure which will be used for such basic needs is built properly as fixing mistakes will be costly.

Another area of concern is the level of impact such large scale projects will have on the environment. Dubai’s man made islands, such as The World and The Palm, may look pretty but have had a huge impact under the sea’s surface. The reclamation process which involves dredging up and moving of large amounts of sand, has made the normally clear gulf waters cloudy with silt according to Mongabay, an environmental science and conservation news site. The report which focused on The Palm project concluded that the artificial island construction process has altered marine habitats in the area permanently.

Nakheel argues that the environmental impact isn’t quiet so bad. In a response to Mongabay’s report, one of its Environmental Scientist wrote that “[…]the channels between the fronds of the Palm projects seem to be ideal habitat for sea grass meadows. We’ve discovered large tracts of two species of sea grasses establishing in these areas. The protection offered by the crescent offers a sheltered environment favorable to sea grasses. The Palm Jumeirah crescent itself represents about 40 hectares of rocky reef. I dive on it every week and it is flourishing with invertebrate and vertebrate fauna. We’ve recorded dolphins, manta rays, sharks, trevally and more within the waters of Palm Jumeirah.”

Still, the question remains if the cost, both in terms of money and environmental damage, is justified for such ostentatious project.

Update: A recent article from Property Wire discusses the cancellation and postponement of several large-scale projects from developers in Dubia, including Nakheel. In its current state, even with government backing Nakheel my not be able to move forward with other projects unless they can raise much needed capital through the sale of existing properties. Read the full article here.

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