I recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the Kansas Ag and Rural Leaders (KARL) program. Our trip included unique farm tours like a camel dairy, falcon hospital and the oldest irrigation district in the world. We experienced local traditions and culture by visiting museums, a desert oasis, a camel race training facility, a livestock market, a palace and the grand mosque. However, the real reason people visit UAE is to see Dubai.
Dubai’s leaders seem to have committed to the “if you build it, they will come” ideal popularized in “Field of Dreams.”. Their vision for Dubai has been to replace oil revenue that will eventually dwindle with money from tourism, business and the financial sectors. They are creating a center of business for the Middle East and the world; a “City of Dreams.”
Dubai had been described by many former travelers as the Las Vegas of the Middle East. I expected the Burj Khalifa (currently the world’s tallest building) and the Palm (a manmade island complex) would have a row of sky scrapers connecting the two areas and the city might feel like Chicago or Los Angeles.
My mind was not prepared for what the city actually looks like. Everything is new and really tall; high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see. When you emerge from a cluster of them, you can see another cluster of 10 to 20 a few miles away in any direction except downtown, which is more like 100 to 200 high-rise buildings. The city is filled with brand new metro lines, shopping malls, tourist attractions and residential communities. Dubai is a modern city of stunning architecture and the latest technology.
Our tour guide joked that Emiratis’ favorite word is ‘est. They have the tallest building, largest shopping mall, deepest swimming pool, largest dancing fountain, highest Ferris wheel. The list goes longer and makes me think Guinness Book of World Records probably has an office there purely for convenience.
The most impressive part is almost none of it existed 20 years ago. Many attractions didn’t exist 10 years ago as lots of the projects were fast tracked to prepare for the World Expo, which was originally scheduled for 2020 and delayed a year because of COVID.
The six-month Expo ended March 31 and was expected to bring 25 million visitors to see the 192 country pavilions focusing on themes of sustainability, mobility and opportunity. If you are picturing the state fair, this expo was about 20 times bigger without the animals, and even though we visited at the end of month six, the place felt fresh; bathrooms were clean, pavilions and facilities were in good working order, and there were no visible signs of staff packing-up. The same feel of quality and pride could be felt throughout all the attractions we saw.
Dubai is a city of dreams. It is the manifestation of leader’s vision and ability to motivate others to join in creating something big, something people all over the world will talk about and want to see for themselves.
People ignore their field of dreams because it seems too big. Dreams don’t happen overnight. Small steps, like having a clear vision or creating things that you can be proud of, are what create the momentum to move big dreams forward.
The tallest building in the most extravagant city in the world was what one man saw when he looked across the barren desert. Just imagine what you can make of the world around you.