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The Story of the World's Fastest City

Jim Krane

In 1950 first hospital opened in Dubai, but native women refused to give birth there because they heard that doctors cut open women's stomachs to get baby. So they continues to give birth at home, with terrible infant mortality rates. Not until ruler's wife had her baby at the clinic did the local women relent.

The rest of the UAE - Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait - used their oil wealth to subsidize cushy lifestyles and overpaid bureaucracies. They parked their wealth in passive overseas investments and got perhaps 10% returns. Dubai invested in infrastructure and got back $5 for every dollar invested.

Sheik Zayed, who took control in 1966, ruled Abu Dhabi. He gave every citizen 3 or 4 peices of land - one for a home, one for a commercial building, one for a workshop or factory and one for a farm. He never kept more than 3 wives, one less than the legal limit, so that there was always a slot when he found an eligible girl.

Sheik Rashid the Dubai equivalent. He started Dubai's sprint. His son Mohammed, carried it on. Gulf Air, then the dominant airline in Persian Gulf, tried to bludgeon Dubai over an access issue. In response, Mohammed closed their office, hired a local BOAC rep to start an airline, and put his half-brother Ahmed, who had never had a job, in charge. The airline became Emirates, today one of the biggest international airlines in the world. Ahmed turned out to be a smart and decisive leader.

The Burj Al Arab (Tower of the Arabs) became the most significant Arab building in last 5 centuries. Sheik Mohammed was the dream client. He was enthusiastic and decisive, and no planning rules applied to his projects. Above all, it had an unlimited budget. It's purpose was to put Dubai on the map. It didn't matter that it would never repay the investment.

Sheik Mohammed employs a squad of mystery shoppers who go round bureaucracies posing as prickly members of the public seeking government help. Their reports are instrumental in determining promotions and sackings.

Dubai levies no income, property or corporate taxes. Taxes imports (5%) and levies on hotel rooms and restaurant and liquor sales, plus a tax on apartments and offices. But most of budget comes from profits of businesses like Emirates.

State run businesses have a bad name usually because they were run by incompetent party functionaries who had no incentive to create quality businesses.

Palm islands all designed by an ex-Christchurch NZ artist William Pickering. Arguably the largest palette ever for an artist - even exceeding Cristo's works. Certainly the only art you can see from space. Story goes that Sheik Mohammed told ports boss Bin Sulayem to build some more beachfront. In 1997 Bin Sulayem was on holiday with his family at Surfers Paradise, where Pickering had a design studio. Bin Sulayem happened to see a painting which he liked, tracked down Pickering and asked him to design an artificial atoll with a lagoon. He did that, but also showed him a palm tree design which had more beachfront and had the advantage of being attached to the mainland with a causeway for the trunk.

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To pick a site, Bin Sulayem and Pickering just flew along the coastline in a helicopter and decided on a site right in the middle. To market the mansion sites, Dubai priced them cheap. They got the English soccer team to stop in Dubai, persuaded David Beckham to buy a plot, and all the rest followed as well. The guys who bought off the plans made out like bandits. The initial price was $1.3 million, but they sold and resold, eventually hitting $9.5 million by 2008.

The Gulf is one of the few places you could build artificial islands. Even 3 miles out to sea the water is only 30 feet deep.

The height of the Burj makes for unusual experiences. You can watch a sunset at ground level then ride to the top and see it again,

Sheik M put lot of emphasis on making govt services more efficient. Every dept benchmarked against the world's best govts - Singapore, NZ, Australia and Canada. Managers could only keep their jobs if they climbed rankings in competitiveness, transparency and efficiency. Once, he appeared at the airport at 1am, watching disgruntled passengers coping with lengthy baggage waits and customs. He demanded an immediate improvement - managers working at night as well as on calmer day shifts, and extra facilities and streamlined custome routines.

At one stage Sheik M's eldest son, Rashid, was his favourite and heir apparent. But they must have had a falling out because one day in 2008 Rashid's palatial villa was demolished without explanation. The trees, bushes and driveway were torn up, the swimming pool filled in, the garden bulldozed. The whole section was levelled and left as a pile of rubble.

1.9 million Indians live in the UAE, compared with about 1 million Emeratis. About half of the Indians live in Dubai. Most of them are labourers, but also many doctors accountants and bankers. Labourers come from most of East, spending most of their lives working 60 hour weeks to send back a stipend to wives and children they never see. "They are like candles burning and melting to light others."

Friday is the day off, but it is also the day that the Dubai bus services don't run from the workers' suburbs - they don't want the dirty labourers hanging around the tourist or shopping areas they've helped build.

About 800 men die each year from falls on construction sites. Often they are wearing safety harnesses, but the escue services don't get to them in time to prevent suspension trauma, where blood pools in extremities, they lose consciousness and perish within an hour.

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