Those living on Dubai's Palm Jumeirah are loving it, but the development has some critics.
All in the Palm of his hand
Meet Andy Dukes. He owns not one, but two, villas on Dubai's Palm Jumeirah, each with its own private beach. The former owner of a successful e-greeting card business, he was among the first people to move on to the reclaimed island early last year. Yet when the plans for Palm Jumeirah were first revealed by Nakheel in 2001, buying a home there was just a dream for Mr Dukes. Then, a few years later, with the sale of his company and a sackload of cash in the bank, he set about plotting life on the island.
He paid about Dh1.8 million (US$490,000) for a four-bedroom villa on Frond E, which has since become affectionately known as "the party frond". The villa is now worth at least Dh18m. A year after living on Palm Jumeirah, Mr Dukes bought another villa, this time on Frond P (dubbed the second-best party frond). He now rakes in up to Dh53,000 a week from renting the first villa to holiday makers, while living in the second.
Having grown up in a small town on the UK's East Yorkshire coast, Mr Dukes says his close affinity to the sea drew him to life on the Palm. "I fell in love with it when I first saw it - the views, the quality, everything," he says. Mr Dukes's days are now spent swimming, kayaking, entertaining guests and dealing with inquiries from fashion directors and the like keen to use his bright, airy and luxurious - an overused tag for new homes in Dubai, but applicable in this case - homes for photo shoots.
Palm Jumeirah is now home to about 4,000 people, living in the Shoreline Apartments or in villas along the slightly more exclusive fronds (Frond K is known as the "VIP frond", and is where the English footballer David Beckham bought a home). When fully complete in 2010, the seven million square metre island will have about 60,000 residents, with an additional 50,000 workers in 32 hotels and dozens of shops and attractions.
It will also be home to the ocean liner QE2 - described by Nakheel as "one of the jewels in the crown of Palm Jumeirah's world class offerings" and slated for transformation into a floating hotel - and the perfect complement to the recently opened Atlantis Hotel, the impending Cirque du Soleil and Trump International Hotel Tower. While some of these attractions continue to be built, island life does not appear to be tainted much by cranes dotting the skyline or cement mixer lorries clogging traffic.
Nor does the lack of one basic, albeit important amenity - a supermarket - seem to obstruct daily life. For frond villa owners, who are predominantly expatriates, there's a simple solution to fetching a pint of milk: send the maid, while those living in the Shoreline Apartments have a mini-market. Ironically, as Mr Dukes makes coffee at his home, he runs out of milk. But with no maid around and not much desire to make the 20-minute round trip to the mini-market, we take it black.
"The reality for people living in the villas is that you have someone to do the grocery shopping for you, that is part of the lifestyle," he says. There are plans for a bigger supermarket on the island, as well as a host of bars and restaurants that will form part of a new marina. "I moved here for the beach, to have an outdoor life and to live in a nice house with good sized rooms," says Mr Dukes. "And if you imagine in two years' time, this place will be pretty spectacular."
Close to the entrance of Palm Jumeirah are the Shoreline Apartments, where residents have shared access to a beach and pool. There's also a gym, children's play areas, a coffee shop and pharmacist. For Victoria Sova, an interpreter from Kazakhstan who rented a holiday home there for a week, her biggest dream is to one day own a home on Palm Jumeirah. "It's very peaceful and you feel comfortable," she says. "If I was at home on my day off I would just be watching TV, but here I can go to the gym or come to the beach. In my country there are no good gyms or beaches to go and rest."
While the beach at the Shoreline Apartments is meant to be an enclave for those living there, curiosity got the better of one intrepid tourist, who managed to sneak in and catch a glimpse during a visit to Dubai earlier this year. That tourist was Wayne Hemingway, the fashion-turned-housing designer from the UK who has a thing or two to say about what keeps a property development going. Mr Hemingway once famously lambasted the UK property developer Wimpey for creating "bland, soulless homes" in an interview with UK daily newspaper, The Independent.
The furore that surrounded his comments soon led to him being hired by Wimpey to redesign its homes and make its communities more sustainable, and later to the creation of his own housing design firm, Hemingwaydesign. According to Mr Hemingway, the only other development in the world that has caused as much of a stir as Palm Jumeirah is the 0-One, a regeneration of Malmo waterfront in Sweden. But not being one to embark on a road trip for his morning paper and pint of milk, he's not so sure if Palm Jumeirah has what it takes to be a place where people will want to live for a long time to come.
"It seems as if the best parts are 'gated' and reserved for the lucky few," he says. "It is a wonderful piece of civil engineering, but I think the entrance is uninspiring and the building density is too high, which doesn't do justice to the 'island' brand. As you drive in, you can't even see that you are coming on to an island - a place that is supposed to be about access to the sea." Along with small shops, signs to the ocean and public footpaths, Mr Hemingway added that the Palm Jumeirah should have had public beaches built closer to its entrance.
"The potential was there to create a slower paced and less dense oasis within a thrusting city," he says. "Dubai has a lot going for it, but if it's to be a sustainable city where people of differing tastes put down social and economic roots, then it needs to diversify in terms of what it offers as a place to live - and I don't mean offering towers that rotate or reach closer to the stars, I'm talking about environments and neighbourhoods."
Still, while the lack of quaint community living and high maintenance costs rile some, with property values having at least tripled, those having the last laugh are the ones who bought there, according to the chief executive of Nakheel, Chris O'Donnell. Mr O'Donnell is proud of Palm Jumeirah, the first of three palm islands that he describes as "truly earth shattering projects". "They stand out from the crowd," he says. firstname.lastname@example.org