x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai's long malls a bit short-sighted for shoppers with kids

Ibn Battuta mall is named after a famous explorer. Shoppers relate to that because it's an expedition to get from one end of it to another, writes Sean Cronin.

Building long malls, such as Ibn Battuta, is a speciality of Nakheel. Jaime Puebla / The National
Building long malls, such as Ibn Battuta, is a speciality of Nakheel. Jaime Puebla / The National

Ibn Battuta Mall is named after a famous explorer. Shoppers can relate to that because it's an expedition to get from one end of it to another.

Building very long malls is a speciality of Nakheel. It's other long mall is called Dragon Mart. Oddly, both are about 1 kilometre long - which is great for general fitness but not ideal for a quick shopping trip with young children.

So it was with some despair that I read the developer was planning to double the size of both. Please let them double the height and not the length.

And please let them not call the same architect who thinks carrying heavy shopping bags for a kilometre one way and then a kilometre the other with a couple of screaming children behind you is clever design.

It's only clever if you can afford to catch a ride in one of the tubby taxis they lay on.

These elongated golf buggies for the super-sized and idly affluent beep their way around the mall like they own the place.

We plebs instead need to apply complex mathematical algorithms to plot the optimum parking spot along the length of the mall so as to ensure the maximum shopping for the minimum mileage.

Somewhere in the middle near Debenhams is usually a safe bet.

Ibn Battuta would have started his journey from here if he had to visit Géant to the south to stock up before heading to Go Sports in the north to grab a pair of comfy water-resistant walking shoes, an absolute necessity for 29-year-long transcontinental treks.

It's easy to get carried away when you go shopping and buy stuff you don't really need.

Property developers can suffer from the same affliction.

When sales on the Palm Jumeirah were doing well almost a decade ago, Nakheel started to create two more palm-shaped islands before it had even nearly finished the first one. To do that, you need quite a lot of sand, about a quarter of the world's dredging fleet and several billion dollars in cash. You can see how that plan went if you ever fly into Dubai Airport during daylight.

Five years after the first tenants moved in, the Palm Jumeirah does not yet have a mall - or even a hypermarket.

A few months back, the developer decided that what the Palm and its tens of thousands of residents really needed was not a supermarket where they might perhaps purchase a pint of milk or the occasional loaf of bread - but some more houses.

Property developers are also easily encouraged by positive data. Retail is doing well just now and that is convincing developers to build more of it. But less than five years ago, offices were also doing well - so well that occupancy was running at 100 per cent- which made the city almost unique on the planet. As investors began to fear the beginnings of a residential property bubble in 2007, they began to look at different property asset classes. They noted that every square foot of prime office space in the city was occupied and they said to themselves: "We'll have some of that."

Overnight, semi-constructed residential skyscrapers were reconfigured into office buildings and sold by the floor. The little stands in malls displaying miniature models of apartment buildings were changed to advertise office buildings instead.

Nobody stopped to think how such buildings would ever be sold with a different landlord owning each floor. Or how potential tenants requiring more than one floor might have to negotiate with several different landlords - each offering different rents and lease terms. The plan was an utter disaster, and today almost half of the office stock in the emirate is empty.

This is what happens when property developers are left unattended without grown-up supervision for any length of time.

One minute you have crayon marks on the walls, the next they're driving piles into the patio.

I write this sitting in the Starbucks at the southernmost corner of Ibn Battuta Mall. Despite my moaning, I still like to visit on occasion - for the exercise mainly. The kids like the big elephant as well.

One of the sprogs is playing drums with the stirrers.

The other is lying on the floor doing the dying fly.

It's time to go home. But I've committed the schoolboy explorer error. The car is parked at the other end of the mall, which means having to endure a kilometre-long tantrum in Dolby surround sound. As another great explorer once said: I may be some time.


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