A city without proper public space is a city without a soul, says Veronica Simpson. But there’s more to it than fountains and piazzas
Modern day Dubai is an extraordinary place. Clusters of glass skyscrapers pierce the hot, smoggy air, their presence a testament to the alchemy of oil money and limitless ambition. Here 900 skyscrapers have been built since 1991, many of them designed by multinational architecture firms with seemingly no desire (or no client requirement) to create anything appropriate to this region or its climate, and few of them – bar SOM’s Burj Khalifa – of any uplifting civic quality. It’s a city for the car, its workers leaving their air-conditioned high-rise apartments only to slide into their air-conditioned cars and drive to their airconditioned offices to make money, or to an air-conditioned mall to spend it. Two things strike you quite forcibly after just a few hours here: one is the sickening cost to the planet of sustaining all this air-conditioned comfort in a desert – even without throwing in an artificial ski slope or two just for fun; the other, you are struck by the impoverished quality of life that results from a car-centric city with next to no real public space.