Dubai is building its own rainforest, because that's not a terrible idea

An actual rainforest. Not a pretend one. Image: Getty.

What do you buy Dubai, the water-starved desert city that has everything? How about its own tropical rainforest?

It'll be the Middle East's first, apparently (not sure why). Anyway, from government-owned newspaper The National:

The Dubai Rainforest, described as an educational and cultural dome, will be housed within Damac Properties’ Akoya Oxygen master community and is slated to be completed ahead of Expo 2020.

It is designed to recreate the natural environment of rainforests, which cover 6 per cent of the world’s surface, said the developer.

It won't recreate it exactly, you understand. Rainforests are famous for a number of characteristics. One is their large number of trees. Another is their tendency to receive quite a large quantity of rain, in some cases as much as 450cm of it every year.

What they’re not famous for is popping up in tree-less deserts that get less than 10cm of rain a year, and they're almost never found in luxury housing developments. But Dubai does like to be different, so.

Image: Damac Properties.

The piece continues:

Visitors will be taken on a journey through the jungle, starting on ground level, before climbing up into the canopy as they learn about the habitat’s flora and fauna.

Those with a thrill for heights will be able to fly through the treetops on a zip wire or just relax in the Rainforest spa, the latter of which will offer hydrothermal treatments among rock pools and steam baths.

For those who like their day trips to massively resource-hungry pretend biomes to come with a side order of irony, the new development will be right next to the Trump World Golf Club. Which is another project sucking up enormous amounts of the region's scarce water supply, and which is ultimately owned by this guy:

Dubai's media is normally pretty supportive of the various Ozymandian construction projects going on in the Emirate. So it’s a measure of the sheer ludicrousness of this rainforest thing that The National actually quoted a local academic who obviously thinks the whole thing is insane:

Dr Ali El-Keblawy, associate professor at the University of Sharjah and director of the Sharjah Seed Bank and Herbarium, said the project’s expected high water footprint is likely unsustainable in a desert climate.

“To create an artificial forest in such harsh conditions, they are challenging nature,” he said.

Well, that’s one point of view. But another is that “nature” was invented by Communists in the 1980s as a way of discrediting capitalism, so it could go either way.

Anyway, tl:dr: we’re living in the end times.

 
 
 
 

Budget 2017: Philip Hammond just showed that rejecting metro mayors was a terrible, terrible error

Sorry, Leeds, nothing here for you: Philip Hammond and his big red box. Image: Getty.

There were some in England’s cities, one sensed, who breathed a sigh of relief when George Osborne left the Treasury. Not only was he the architect of austerity, a policy which had seen council budgets slashed as never before: he’d also refused to countenance any serious devolution to city regions that refused to have a mayor, an innovation that several remained dead-set against.

So his political demise after the Brexit referendum was seen, in some quarters, as A Good Thing for devolution. The new regime, it was hoped, would be amenable to a variety of governance structures more sensitive to particular local needs.

Well, that theory just went out of the window. In his Budget statement today, in between producing some of the worst growth forecasts that anyone can remember and failing to solve the housing crisis, chancellor Philip Hammond outlined some of the things he was planning for Britain’s cities.

And, intentionally or otherwise, he made it very clear that it was those areas which had accepted Osborne’s terms which were going to win out. 

The big new announcement was a £1.7bn “Transforming Cities Fund”, which will

“target projects which drive productivity by improving connectivity, reducing congestion and utilising new mobility services and technology”.

To translate this into English, this is cash for better public transport.

And half of this money will go straight to the six city regions which last May elected their first metro mayor elections. The money is being allocated on a per capita basis which, in descending order of generosity, means:

  • £250m to West Midlands
  • £243 to Greater Manchester
  • £134 to Liverpool City Region
  • £80m to West of England
  • £74m to Cambridgeshire &d Peterborough
  • £59m to Tees Valley

That’s £840m accounted for. The rest will be available to other cities – but the difference is, they’ll have to bid for it.

So the Tees Valley, which accepted Osborne’s terms, will automatically get a chunk of cash to improve their transport system. Leeds, which didn’t, still has to go begging.

One city which doesn’t have to go begging is Newcastle. Hammond promised to replace the 40 year old trains on the Tyne & Wear metro at a cost of £337m. In what may or may not be a coincidence, he also confirmed a new devolution deal with the “North of Tyne” region (Newcastle, North Tyne, Northumberland). This is a faintly ridiculous geography for such a deal, since it excludes Sunderland and, worse, Gateshead, which is, to most intents and purposes, simply the southern bit of Newcastle. But it’s a start, and will bring £600m more investment to the region. A new mayor will be elected in 2018.

Hammond’s speech contained other goodies for cites too, of course. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • £123m for the regeneration of the Redcar Steelworks site: that looks like a sop to Ben Houchen, the Tory who unexpectedly won the Tees Valley mayoral election last May;
  • A second devolution deal for the West Midlands: tat includes more money for skills and housing (though the sums are dwarfed by the aforementioned transport money);
  • A new local industrial strategy for Greater Manchester, as well as exploring “options for the future beyond the Fund, including land value capture”;
  • £300m for rail improvements tied into HS2, which “will enable faster services between Liverpool and Manchester, Sheffeld, Leeds and York, as well as to Leicester and other places in the East Midlands and London”.

Hammond also made a few promises to cities beyond England: opening negotiations for a Belfast City Deal, and pointing to progress on city deals in Dundee and Stirling.


A city that doesn’t get any big promises out of this budget is – atypically – London. Hammond promised to “continue to work with TfL on the funding and financing of Crossrail 2”, but that’s a long way from promising to pay for it. He did mention plans to pilot 100 per cent business rate retention in the capital next year, however – which, given the value of property in London, is potentially quite a big deal.

So at least that’s something. And London, as has often been noted, has done very well for itself in most budgets down the year.

Many of the other big regional cities haven’t. Yet Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham and Derby were all notable for their absence, both from Hammond’s speech and from the Treasury documents accompanying it.

And not one of them has a devolution deal or a metro mayor.

(If you came here looking for my thoughts on the housing element of the budget speech, then you can find them over at the New Statesman. Short version: oh, god.)

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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