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Study-Trip Report: Building Visions with Glass and Steel

The students of the Master Program "Governing the Large Metropolis" at the University of SciencesPo Paris have released Building Visions with Glass and Steelan “instant-book” based on their notes and photographs after their fieldtrip to Dubai and Dhabi, last January 2016. This document appears in two versions: a printed book and a web site--both of them richly adorned with their photographs.

It is now an integral part of Dubai’s mythology to be presented as a city which has “emerged” from the desert practically overnight, flouting any clear sense of agency in its construction process. But, pragmatically, how does one plan and oversee the construction of such a large-scale project? What could have possibly guided Dubai’s builders other than that elusive sense of “vision,” which has now become an integral part of the city’s discourse on its own development? It is no coincidence that Sheikh Mohammed ben Rashid Al Maktoum’s 2012 memoir was titled My Vision: Challenges in the Race for Excellence. […] Consisting in a collection of articles, essays, and think-pieces, [this] report is the product of a week-long study trip in the cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, undertaken in January 2016 by the first year students of Sciences Po Urban School’s master’s program “Governing the Large Metropolis.” As students in comparative urban governance and sociology, the aim of [this] trip was to understand the inner workings of both Emirati cities through their governance model and strategies for further development.

Focusing specifically on Dubai, this collection of articles attempts to outline the city’s continued strategy to distinguish itself in a world of competing cities. If Dubai’s development model today is more closely associated with the spectacular architectural frenzies of the Burj al-Arab and Burj Khalifa, adopting a historical perspective is crucial to appreciate the city’s long-term strategic vision for development. Harnessing this strategy requires sustained attention to infrastructural development, migration patterns and the political system. We have throughout this report strived to illuminate the “Dubai phenomenon” through a plurality of angles, which is also reflected in the different styles and formats of the following articles. The plurality of voices and impressions expressed throughout this report seeks to translate the multifaceted nature of a city which concentrates radical extremes.

The “instant-book” includes six sections, organizing the report’s twenty-one articles thematically. A first section examines questions of identity, culture and historical legacy in Dubai today, assessing how the city negotiates its entrance onto the world stage, balancing traditional tribal society with accelerated capitalist development. In a second section, the report focuses on the city’s strategy for image-driven development, and more specifically, how the economy of attractivity requires the city to ceaselessly project a particular urban vision to the rest of the world. A third section, called “Powering Dubai,” then focuses on the driving forces behind Dubai’s growth model. The need for foreign investments, as well as heavy reliance on immigrant labor, has characterized the Emirate’s often-relentless economic expansion. This section also evaluates the geopolitical stakes at play when it comes to Dubai’s extraordinary energy needs, as well as the liberal approach to investments and regulation that defines its business strategy. The fourth section is devoted specifically to the growing importance of environmental sustainability as an economic sector, both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Sustainability also possesses a political dimension in the UAE, as an alternative strategy to distance the Emirates from dependency on external resources, and diversify the economy. However, reconciling the attitudes of a growth-based society with objectives of conservation and protection has proved to be a difficult terrain of implementation. The fifth section focuses specifically on the governance model of Dubai: as a city-state composed of economic free zones within a kingdom, these overlapping layers of governance are reflected in the inner workings of a socially stratified society, and overlapping types of competing regulations. In a final section entitled “Dubai and the World,” the report reflects on the city’s place in the flux of international relations, with the agenda to simultaneously become a hub for global travel, a safe haven in a turbulent region, and an Islamic model counter-model to Western global cities.

The book's editorial team include: Alice Dang, Raphael Gernath, Filipe Mello Rose, and Béatrice Mercier. 



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The photography page aims to provide a space for reflection on photography in its various forms and uses in the Middle East. We showcase the work of photographers active in the region and cultivate critical thinking about photographic practices, representations, and history. The page publishes photo essays, articles, interviews, reviews and more. It also provides information on photographic archives, agencies, and institutions, exhibits, events, and publications.