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The Blueprint: A History of Dubai’s Spatial Development through Oil Discovery

Published on: February 2010​
Genre: Dubai Model​ Category: Research Report/ Research Paper/ White Paper​

To understand Dubai’s modern history since its founding in 1833, one must go further back in time to explore the regional history that frames its foundation. European powers, beginning with the Venetians, and, then subsequently, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and finally the British, were interested in the Gulf region as a means to secure trade routes to and from the Indian Subcontinent and points eastward. This meant that from the fifteenth century through the late nineteenth century, if trade routes could move uninterrupted through the Gulf region, European powers were not involved in the societal affairs of settlements as a traditionally colonial ruling class, nor did European merchants bother to extensively explore trade within the region, believing that it required more effort than either the climate or the local economies were worth. The region’s local tribes were divided among the maritime coastal groups and those that were nomadic and land-bound, and conflict among these groups occurred in parallel with the larger European conflicts also playing out in the region. The intersection of the two came with the increase in piracy, which, in very basic terms, represented a kind of cultural disagreement on trade customs. The Europeans felt that they were unjustly looted and local groups simply sought to protect themselves from foreign incursion while taking what they believed was their share.

British incursions into regional affairs increased as the pearl trade sector grew and, once oil was discovered in Persia and Saudi Arabia at the beginning of the twentieth century, British firms entered the region more actively. Inspired by oil profits and the gold trade after 1947, the British government and firms behaved more paternalistically, and established a more direct protectorate relationship with regional sheikhdoms, including Dubai. The interrelation of the British presence, resource exploration and wealth, and local aspirations for development define this period, which culminates in oil discovery in Dubai in 1966. The emphasis on infrastructural projects in Dubai marked its development pattern throughout this period, which would then serve as a blueprint for projects in its post-oil discovery phase.

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