I first went to Dubai in 2015. It lived up and down to its reputation: Absurd. Unsustainable. Hypocritical and seductive.
By the time I left after two weeks, I had learned not to dismiss it. To respect it for what it was, where it was, at which point in time.
Dubai was analogously what New York was in the mid-20th century. Port city with a strategic location. Gateway and attraction for the western world. Welcoming to those with ambition who wanted to make money, even if it was to send most of it back home to support a family, maybe a village, maybe, eventually, a whole new economy. Migrant city. Money city. With the tallest buildings in the world.
So is Dubai that city for the times we are in now – mid 21stCentury?
So long as it pleases the Sheikh – the person, the position, the patron – who wants the biggest version of whatever the world wants, so long as the world respects his particular powers and his religion and his family.
Still, so many absurdities:
One of which was inevitably going to be a world fair – in this case, Expo2020. Delayed a year because of you know what, but the date was part of the brand, so it stayed.
I was going to join Michael Geller, who like me is a fan of world’s fairs as markers in urban history. (Expo 67 in Montreal gave me a sense of what a city really was and could be, and changed my life.)
Geller passes along his impressions in the accompanying post, because Geller got to go to Dubai while I stayed behind. Because, you know, Covid. But it left me determined to get there in the last weeks of the fair.
That’s what’ll be doing, with a side trip to Abu Dhabi. I’ll be mostly on Instagram (IG: gordonpriceyvr. There’s a link on the lower right of the Viewpoint Vancouver home page, where the pictures will be.
From this distance, as hour to hour, historical warfare is underway, in a year of pandemic, insurrections and natural disasters, well, the theme of the fair – ‘sustainability’ – seems dated and maybe out of date. Or at least insufficient to the moment.
But as I learned half a decade ago, do not underestimate or disregard this place. No matter how many projects rise, get put on hold, or die, there is more of the future unfolding in its mix of money, ideas, cultures and peoples than most places, including ours. A lot to learn here, if we are able to see through the absurdity.