Meraas is proud of its scheme's green credentials, but how sustainable can development in a hostile desert climate ever really be?
Today was the official launch at Cityscape of Jumeira Gardens, the $95bn (£54bn) mixed-use scheme to “regenerate” an area of Dubai. Besides the mind-boggling proportions of the scheme - it will feature three of the world's tallest buildings, and there are rumours that they might be even bigger than the Burj Dubai - whose tallest-in-the-world crown, incidentally, has just been stolen by Nakheel's latest plan.
Besides all that, the scheme involves destroying the low-rise homes of some 50,000 people. A trawl through the forums springing up (for example, Dubai Online) about this development reveals that behind all the glitz of the launch, not everybody is euphoric about it. And how sustainable is this massive demolition and building project? One engineer said to me off the record that he believes Dubai is “the most unsustainable place on earth”.
So is this scheme really about regeneration? I managed to grab some time with Sina Al Kazim, the chief executive of Jumeira Gardens' developer Meraas, to put these issues to him.
We meet at the Meraas stand, which is actually a whole room at Cityscape, featuring a dazzling array of glittering models of Jumeira Gardens, white leather sofas and waiters serving delicious fruit drinks. Al Kazim and his PR usher me towards some large black-glass doors, a code is tapped into a pad, and the doors open to reveal the even swankier VIP area.
So, glitz aside, what about all those people whose homes are to be bulldozed? “The government's Dubai Land Development department is arranging relocation and compensation for these people. You should ask them for the full details, as we're not really involved,” says Al Kazim.
But he does insist that this is genuine regeneration. “Just like other cities, here in Dubai relocating people is an important part of a living city's development. It's just like the way businesses have had to be moved off London's Olympic site.”
One engineer said to me off the record that he believes Dubai is the most unsustainable place on earth – even the water going into people's taps must be cooled down
And he makes a good case for the scheme's sustainable credentials. For example, one of the three super-tall towers, Park Gate, comprises three buildings that are each orientated to shade the others at peak sunlight times. It's an impressively simple way to deal with the big problem of the relentless heat.
Another of the three tall towers, Park Avenue, will feature fins on the main facade to redirect sunlight. The third tower, One Dubai, is likely to have a PV façade and a double skin - creating a vacuum to help cool it - and perhaps wind turbines too.
“As a blanket statement, we are looking to decrease energy consumption by 40% in Jumeira Gardens,” says Al Kazim. “Sustainability is still new in Dubai, but we're doing well,” he adds, pointing out that one of the world's only 18 or so LEED platinum buildings is here.
He makes a good case. And yet I can't help thinking back to what that engineer was saying. He pointed out that in Dubai, even the water going into people's taps must be cooled down.
However, things could be worse. After all, the UAE doesn't really have to answer to anybody else in the world, so if it wanted to ignore sustainability then it could probably get away with it quite happily. So if we accept that the Dubai phenomenon is here, then let's be grateful that it is trying, in its own way, to be green.
If we accept that the Dubai phenomenon is here, then let's be grateful that it is trying, in its own way, to be green