A coming of age // 30 August 2010

Dubai has changed. It’s different, obviously, to the way it was thirteen years ago when I first got to know its waxy, dusty heat and shimmering, folly-laden ambitions.

There are the towers and malls, humming away. And the 4x4s sailing along tarmacked 12-laners. But with every glass-clad new build comes an equally balanced and gradual wearying of the buildings that went before. Older, lesser edifices are fast becoming that bit much more aged and that bit much more part of the city’s background.

As each cloud-cloaked monument to oil teeters precariously heavenwards, the original ex-pat enclaves, full of sleepy, sandy streets and chunky, square villas, are pushed back a little further into obsolescence – and into normality. Well, they are twenty years old, afterall. It’s beginning to feel like a real city, not only where, like other cities, the rich and poor live poles apart and yet on top of each other, but where a middle ‘class’ is swelling, living in areas of town that are looking dog-eared, a bit shabby and past it, but all the more appealing and grounding for it. As time goes on and villas empty, dumped cars multiply at Dubai airport and job markets wobble, the humanness of it – the predictable rise and fall of it all – is gradually making the UAE’s brash party something far more lifelike.

Soon, there’ll be graffiti, petty crime (to complement the dubious activities that already go on) and a quietly bubbling subculture that the Arabian Gulf desperately lacks; once unleashed, the rest will spill ahead at breakneck speed. Dubious ideals come with baggage. And with the shiny skyscrapers come wrinkles on the youthful face of the Gulf.

Abandoned homes and fading near-pasts – images taken in an around an empty, open villa in the shadow of the Burj Dubai last week

Maid’s kitchen

Sir’s kitchen

Plumbing problems

Lonely key

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