Chart: Abu Dhabi ascends, Dubai rebounds

Dubai as seen from the Buj Khalifa's observation deck. Image: Citizen59 at Wikimedia Commons

Abu Dhabi’s construction industry has had a good few years. Enormous projects like the $2.94bn expansion of the airport, the construction of the 60-storey Leaf Tower, or the plans to build the city its very own Louvre have meant thousands of extra jobs. The construction industry alone now accounts for over 30 per cent of employment in the Emirate.

Construction employment as share (%) of total employment. Data after 2012 is a forecast. Source: CityMetric Intelligence.

In Dubai, at the turn of the millennium, the proportion was even higher – a shade under half the working population were in construction. That jaw-droppingly high figure is a testament to quite how big a share of the city has been built since 1990.  

Since then, though, numbers have fallen. The economic crisis took its toll, but there’s also an argument that no city could continue to employ that many people in construction – you’d simply run out of things to build. 

Dubai property developers have rallied since 2011, and are now planning and constructing the world’s largest, well, everything. The 2020 Dubai Expo is also expected to create over 275,000 jobs across different sectors, which could take construction employment right back up to its pre-crash high: whether it can maintain those levels after the Expo, however, is another question.

The smaller northern emirates are also building, albeit on a much smaller scale. Ajman, the smallest emirate in terms of land mass, is by far the most densely populated, and packs in nearly three times as many people per square kilometre as Dubai. This is perhaps why, in 2007, over $21bn worth of development was planned for Ajman City.

Unfortunately, over the next year the financial crisis led to an increase in prices for raw materials (up by 20 per cent) and outsourced labour (up by 30 per cent). Big projects like the Al Zorah Resort in Ajman City were put on hold.

That’s why Ajman’s line on the top graph seems steady – big plans were quashed or delayed by the financial crisis. But, as the big two become more expensive, a building boom may still be on the cards. 


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.