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KunstlerCast 254 — A Chat About Dubai with Douglas Kelbaugh

JHK chats with Douglas Kelbaugh of the University of Michigan School of Architecture about Dubai, where JHK recently made a brief sojourn. Doug Kelbaugh was dean of the UMich architecture faculty for ten years. After that, he worked for two years for the Dubai-based Limitless Corporation, which did large scale development projects all over the world, including the Emirate of Dubai itself. Doug lived there those two years and got a firm sense for the flavor of the place. He is also a founding member of the Congress for the New Urbanism, which will be holding its annual international confab in Buffalo New York, June 5 – 8. For info: The Congress For the New Urbanism 2014

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Please send questions and comments to letters@kunstler.com.

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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

7 Responses to “KunstlerCast 254 — A Chat about Dubai with Douglas Kelbaugh” Subscribe

  1. robert1352 May 29, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Are you trimming your finger nails during the show?

  2. JBinCville May 29, 2014 at 2:07 pm #

    The top of a building still glowing in the sun while the rest of the city goes dark….something to behold. Wow, what a fascinating interview; thank you. The architect in me was quite jealous while the rest of me was dumbfounded by the shear stupidity of the project descriptions.

    ~ And I think it was a slinky in the background this time. On a previous podcast I would have sworn he was whittling and sanding something. :-)

  3. chipshot May 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Having visited Dubai one year ago, I found this chat especially intriguing. Staying 1/2 the week in the old part of town by the creek and the other 1/2 on Palm Jumeirah made the discussion even more relevant.

    The main impression I came away with is what a monument to human ingenuity and creativeness as well as foolishness the whole city is.

    An olympic size skating rink in one mall, a ski slope in another,
    bus stops enclosed and air conditioned to 73º, and not only are the metro cars A/C’d but the platforms (where underground) are as well.

    An underwater hotel was talked about as the next big project.

    Fascinating place…with a disastrous future.

  4. Transfrontier May 30, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to continue the show.

    Y’all gave some considerate thought and perspective to the Dubai subject.

    A funny little note – I’ve had the good fortune to live in Dubai a couple of times. Back in 2007 while living there, as my wife was doing fieldwork (another interesting story about the China-Dubai-East African trade in fashion, textiles & bales of American used clothing) I would explore Dubai with our 1 year old boy in tow/stroller. I did pretty extensive surveys of the malls both great & well-known and hidden/under the radar. In Africa and the East an infant with you is the most powerful of humanizing passports into places where “white folk” – Americans/Europeans don’t go!
    Kitchens, family rooms, cafes and parties/weddings of the locals & disenfranchised, you’ll find yourself invited in and welcomed to frank & friendly conversations that would not seem possible in the “good ole USofA”.

    Dubai – a place I was well-positioned and leaning to hate but quickly fell enchanted by. The “wild-west” can-do truly crazy frontier town on the edge of an insane spinning beyond controls of humane design hubris and cheap coins. There’s no need to be a mountain man, civil war or Renaissance reenactor pretending playing good ole days when there’s a place like Dubai out there!

    Now for the catch JHK. In Dubai 2007 I had already spent a decade working/living as an expat-ish contract archaeologist/shovel bum. Places like Micronesia/Polynesia, East and West Africa, Yemen, Texas, Louisiana, WV and Penn. In 2007 I understood the world to be in a real crisis on multiple fronts!

    Then I pushed the stroller into the “Western” Bookstore Magrudy’s and found the Peak Oil section. A whole section dedicated to peak oil, climate change and the other subjects that fill that category – pre-global financial crash.
    I read your Geography books a decade earlier in the Suburbs of the South and now I found The Long Emergency (British version) on the frontier of the long emergency. I devoured The Long Emergency several times and chased down your footnotes during that time in Dubai.
    I’ve reread it while working in the Texas & La oilfields (as an archaeologist) next to Halliburton riggers and “security” drones.

    I now keep finding copies of The Long Emergency at the thrift stores here in Vermont – I always buy them (for a buck?) and give them to folks who might be able to absorb the info you put together.

    Pardon me for my rambling nature.

    A quote from Sheikh Mo ” My grandfather rode a camel, my father a Mercedes Benz, I ride in a jet, but my grandchildren will ride a camel again”.

    cheers, Ephraim McD

  5. Karah June 4, 2014 at 12:08 am #

    sheikh mo is a great name for a rapper!

    the “d” is for decadent.

    the ” u” for upward.

    the “b” for big.

    the “a” for air conditioned.

    the “i” for insane.

  6. carstars June 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    After listening I only have a vision of camel trains and sailing ships in the not too distant future ‘mining’ the city for surplus scrapes of our civilization. Should provide the few who live in that region, some needed metal for centuries to come. .

  7. gardener1 June 6, 2014 at 4:58 am #

    This is a fascinating conversation.

    I don’t know where to start…..

    We were expats in Eurasia from 2003 to 2008 and saw the craziest kinds of ponzi financed unsustainable development far and wide. There seemed to be just no terminus to the myopic blunderbuss.

    In Moscow Russia they were eviscerating their city from the inside and erecting expensive residential highrises everywhere. Except that once finished, these buildings weren’t sold off or occupied. Why? Because the owners/developers made more money NOT selling the apartments, sitting on the vacant building and borrowing against the ever rising value of the square footage. If the apartments were sold, they could no longer be leveraged. So the buildings went up everywhere you looked wiping out residential neighborhoods galore, and remained dark and empty. Not that any of the Russians displaced by these developments could ever have been able to afford a janitors closet in any of them. AND in the process of construction several of them caught fire (Tajik welders) and the city of Moscow had no fire service able to reach the heights of these towers.

    We had a glorious tower apartment in Baku Azerbaijan, which is a completely derelict city in a country whose ruler has been declared the #1 most corrupt ruler in the world. Our tower had obviously been installed on a couple of blocks of cleared out slum, as we had a 180 degree view of shanties and sheds corrugated metal lean-to’s. Construction cranes were everywhere in Baku putting up fancy highrises as far as the eye could see. But who was going to live in these buildings, the Azeris are very poor people? The city was a wreck. Every day the electricity failed, the subway crashed, the water stopped running. There was absolutely no infrastructure or economic base to support this kind of development.

    In Beijing China we had a fancy dan apartment in a foreigner building. All of Beijing was one big construction zone for miles in every direction. And yet when we went out at night there were no lights in the street, it was completely pitch dark. There was a big shopping center nearby that was lit up like Las Vegas, there a 3 story restaurant wrapped in colored chaser lights, but the street to get there was so dark you couldn’t see in front of you. Why? Because there wasn’t enough electricity to supply everything so the public streets were dark while the paying customers at the shopping center got the electricity. (Don’t even get me started on the impenetrable ‘air’)

    The bottom line is, that just because the global financing kingpins like to create money by loaning these edifices into existence, they are in NO WAY sustainable. Inadequate fire protection, inadequate water supply and pumping systems, inadequate electrical supply and delivery systems, dysfunctional elevators, insufficient trained maintenance technicians to keep them operating — the problems are legion and there is nowhere to go but crash. It cannot go otherwise.

    And then you have to ask, what happens when multiple huge cities and unmaintainable huge buildings all over the world fail to function?? And all the money that built them cannot be recovered, well, what happens then?

    Holy shit I don’t know. But I have seen all of this with my own eyes and it is obvious even to a simple gardener like myself that this puppy is going down.

    We are looking at moving to a quiet corner of south America in the next year or two, where food is cheap and plentiful and you can walk anywhere you need to go.

    There is disaster ahoy.

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