Don’t make snow in the desert: Lessons learned from my trip to Dubai

Don’t make snow in the desert: Lessons learned from my trip to Dubai

By Matt Cohen

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As a graduate student in the School of Sustainability, Matt Cohen is studying sustainable urban development and what better way to gain a global perspective on the topic than traveling to Dubai, one of the Middle East’s most extravagant and well-known cities. As part of the Global Sustainability Studies Program, Cohen joined fellow students and sustainability faculty in exploring landmark sustainability projects and the re-branding of the city. Here, he shares his experience, which included a meeting with Dubai’s Minister of Economy, His Excellency Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri.

Why did you choose to study sustainable tourism and culture in Dubai?
Studying sustainability in Phoenix, we can draw many parallels to the experience in Dubai. At the same time, as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is an autocratic state, differences in governance made for unique comparisons between the two cities.

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Dubai: The Race to the Top

Dubai: The Race to the Top

By Sigma Dolins

At first, Dubai is a cacophony of glitter and steel. Like Vegas, you have a desert climate with skyscrapers thrust up out of the ground, lining Sheikh Zayed road in stern procession for miles. Because there is such a complex network of highways and roads, most 6 lanes wide, everyone drives here, which means there is very little pedestrian culture…what I mean by that are the sidewalks and small storefronts, the kind of thing we see near campus along Mill Avenue. There are storefronts here, but its expected you can drive right up to them, and between all your destinations. So the car dependency that we sustainability students are trained to loathe is brought to a new extreme here. I have never, ever seen so many expensive cars. Not Audi or BMW. We’re talking Ferrari, Lamborghini, the occasional Bentley or two. I was really excited when I saw my mom’s Toyota Rav 4 cruising down the highway.

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Dubai: Al Ain

Dubai: Al Ain

By Jordan Branch

As we left Dubai, Mohammad, the tour guide, told us about Dubai Land and the plans for development. We passed a few areas of the future site and saw a few areas that looked close to being completed. As we continued toward Al Ain, I enjoyed studying the picturesque landscape filled with high sand dunes that did not have any plants in them and stretched into the horizon. Some fences and walls had been breached because the sand dunes had drifted and piled up so high that it formed a bridge over the manmade barrier, which made me think of man’s impermanence compared to the sustaining forces of nature. Some areas of the landscape were also used to farm dates (the first actual farms I had seen so far). Mohammad, informed us about the numerous camel farms we also saw. He said that the best camels can be sold for millions and used in camel races, while others are bred for their meat, milk, or to be used as a mode of transportation, just like in the olden days. We passed a big camel racing complex and he told us that little boys used to ride the camels in the races, but now little robot jockeys are used.

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Dubai: Abu Dhabi

Dubai: Abu Dhabi

By Jordan Branch

When we drove to Abu Dhabi, we drove past the free trade areas (a.k.a. “cities”) where there was another cluster of skyscrapers. One of them was my second favorite on the trip. The whole square building structure twisted 90 degrees as it spiraled into the sky! Right past this area, the tour guide pointed out that there was an industrial area with natural gas power stations, that powered the desalination plants and aluminum smelters within the industrial area. The next thing he pointed out was the Jebel Ali Free Zone Area (JAFZA), which is the biggest free zone area in the United Arab Emirates and also the last stop of the Metro. As we passed the Dubai/Abu Dhabi border, he pointed out that the number of streetlights that light the freeway at night changed from 4 to 6 because Abu Dhabi is much wealthier than Dubai due to its vast oil reserves. He also pointed out that the color of the pavement turned from black to brown. I noticed that date palms lined the middle of the freeway, while a forest of trees were planted and irrigated next to the freeway on both sides. Our first stop in Abu Dhabi was outside of the actual city of Abu Dhabi, and inside the City of Masdar. We entered the “city” in an automatic electric shuttle system that runs below the ground. When we arrived, we went on a guided tour and learned that the only people in Masdar are the people affiliated with the Masdar Institute and the construction workers, including those who work at the construction waste recycling area. The institute was about the size of a community college campus, although the buildings were about 8 stories tall. First, we visited the library, which is called the “knowledge center” and is designed to look like a brain from the outsdie. Then, we walked through the middle of the campus and were shown the cooling tower, which was not turned on. Cooling towers used to be used to cool buildings in the area through convection for people who could afford to construct one within their residence.

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Jumping Into Life in Dubai

Jumping Into Life in Dubai

By Clayton Beyer

Here at the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, we couldn’t help but love this image captured by Clayton Beyer, a sophomore majoring in Sustainability. The photo was taken on the students’ first day in Dubai. Thanks for sharing, Clayton!

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Pictured, from left to right:
A.J. McIlvaine: Junior, Sustainability major
Connor Udasco: Sophomore, Supply Chain Management major and Sustainability minor
Samson Szeto: Senior, Sustainability major and Asian Pacific American Studies minor
Kevin Klassman: Junior, Landscape Architecture major and Sustainability minor

Dubai: The Airport to the Academy to the Beach to…

Dubai: The Airport to the Academy to the Beach to…

By Sigma Dolins

I’ve never been so conflicted by imagery as I am here in Dubai. Stepping off of the plane and into the airport was surreal. The entire airport, at 6am, was staffed entirely by non-Emirati: Filipinos and Indians. I bought a SIM card at a drink shop from a woman originally from Negros, and the nice woman at the information desk from India printed out some info me. When I took a taxi, I was shuffled to the side where only the women taxi drivers are, dressed in pink abayas. For about 70 dirham, I made it south to the Emirates Academy.

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Dubai Desert, the Burj Khalifa, and the Beach in Dubai

Dubai Desert, the Burj Khalifa, and the Beach in Dubai

By Jordan Branch

One day, we drove out into the desert to take a tour of the “1 GW solar park.”  The first thing I noticed during the drive was the fact that the development in Dubai did not reach to far inland from the sea (although we did drive by some leapfrog developments under construction).  During the drive, I enjoyed looking out the window and watching the sand dunes go by.  There were even yield to camel signs, but I did not see any camels.  We saw a really interesting “bike park” that featured a clubhouse, bike shop, parking racks, and a clinic out in the middle of nowhere.  The cycling course ran parallel to the freeway for a few miles.  The solar park was somewhat of a disappointment because there were no solar panels up yet, although it was interesting to see that the local company “First Solar,” based in Tempe, Arizona, was hired to start the project with a test phase of thin film panels on mountings that do not move.  I later found out that there is a much larger, operational concentrated solar power park somewhere else in the United Arab Emirates.

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48 Hours in Instanbul

48 hours in Istanbul

By Sigma Dolins

My layover in Istanbul, intended to be easygoing and relaxing, has actually been inspiring, breathtaking, and the experience of a lifetime…right on the cusp of another life-changing trip!

In just two days I’ve seen the Blue Mosque, walked the Galata Tower, been to the Dolgachem Palace Museum, gone drinking and dancing in Beycoglu, walked Taksim Square, walked over the Karakoy/Eminonu Bridge twice, ridden the subway, the tram, and the dolgamesh (short bus). I’ve drank raki, Turkish beer and Turkish wine; I’ve had more kinds of lokum (Turkish Delight) than I ever knew existed. I’ve had two kinds of balik ekmek (fish sandwich), made new friends, pretty much avoided death by vehicular collision every five minutes, and took over 200 pictures. The best parts were easily the Turkish bath in the Cemberlitas Hamami, and having tea and fish sandwiches on the Beycoglu side of the Karakoy bridge, watching the water, the people, and the ubiquitous cats.

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First Impressions of Dubai

First Impressions of Dubai

By Jordan Branch

Right after I got off the plane at the Dubai International Airport, I exchanged some currency for United Arab Emirates Dirhams.  Since the United States uses the “Arabic numeral” system, I was expecting the numerals to look the same, but they looked different.  When I took the bus to the accommodation, I noticed that the buildings were medium-density, mixed-use developments, but I was expecting suburban sprawl similar to Phoenix.  While riding the bus, I also saw the Burj Khalifa for the first time, and I was awestruck.  It was much taller than I imagined it to be.

 
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Pre-Departure

Pre-Departure

By Jordan Branch

Dubai is now known as the “City of Gold.”  Money is plentiful and the overabundance of accumulated wealth has been used to develop a city where there once was just a small fishing village…In other words, they “do buy” into the idea of an international city with a modern cosmopolitan lifestyle.  The brand new urban infrastructure is a breeding ground for capitalism and investment.  The astonishing developments have captured the imaginations of people all around the world, including myself.  I have been intrigued by the numerous projects and impressed by the ambitions of the Emirati people and their leaders, especially the city’s new sustainability goals.

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