Islamo-Futurist Urbanism- Dubai vs Jakarta
Some thoughts that came out of two consecutive nights in Dubai and Jakarta separated only by an in-flight nap. Dubai is the ultimate mirage made real, a skyline higher than Manhattan sprouting out of barren sand, it's seed fertilized by petro-cash. Now it grows ever higher by myth alone, a pyramid scheme of property speculation and manufactured glamour. Everyone wants a piece: The Russian oligarchs, British footballers, and the Paris Hiltons of the world are flocking to the Sheikh's gated community. Jakarta is a quintessential chaotic mega-city swelled by the dispossessed. Twenty million souls, more or less, numbers beyond what any census can count. Not a square meter is wasted; when a shop closes for the evening a squatted restaurant squeezes into the narrow space between the building facade and roadway. Customers huddle under tarps against the tropical downpours while eating their spicy halal chicken and poking at tablets or Blackberry phones, oblivious to the noise and smoke of the traffic raging past only centimeters away. Although both cities (all cities?) obliterate the natural landscape, they mimic the landscape buried beneath their concrete. Dubai's spartan minimalism, sterility and open spaces are a human expression of the desert. Jakarta's fecund growth mimics the jungle, any open spot is quickly encrusted in some architecture, be it an informal tin shack or a concrete corporate bunker. They appear to be two totally different models of urbanism, one hyper-planned, the other pure improvisation. But these two cities are the symbiotic extremes of one coherent civilization stretching from the Maghreb to Indonesia, a civilization that itself is just one player in this new world that no longer spins on a euro-american axis. The surplus labor of Jakarta (and places like it) serves the whims of surplus capital of Dubai. Who will build and staff the world's highest skyscrapers, artificial islands or an indoor ski resort? Also, by necessity, for there to be exclusivity, there must exist the excluded. Each city contains a seed of the other. In Jakarta there are also zones of Dubai-style exclusivity, I wasn't shocked to find a shopping mall air-conditioned to arctic temperatures, featuring the global luxury brands and the latest Hollywood films on a multiplex cinema. Although guests must first pass through a serious of gates and metal detectors, the moats that defend this mini-outpost of the 1%. In Dubai I witnessed a few shards of a culture beyond the manufactured artifice, in the creaking wooden dhows laden with cargo, or a group of Pakistani guest workers doing yoga together in the pre-dawn darkness. Aside from everything that is wrong with these two examples of Islamic futurism, from serfdom to ecological insustainability, they are cities truly awesome to behold.