The other day I read about the spreading violence in Greece, and the very precarious situation in most of Eastern Europe, and the news looked very grim indeed. Violence is escalating, and the aftershocks of the initial financial earthquake are being felt in very unpredictable ways. Even back in my home, Canada, friends and relatives are quick to tell me not to make plans to head back any time soon. Unless, that is, I am eager to start my new career at Tim Hortons, and even they may not be hiring these days.
But in the midst of all the economic turmoil, and daily predictions of apocalypse waiting just beyond the horizon, I have started coming across small glimmers of hope in my tiny corner of the world. Nothing overly large, just a series of small events that, perhaps, point to a larger trend.
Walking through the Mall of the Emirates today, I saw something that I hadn't seen for some time, not since this whole crisis hit its stride. You see, about a year ago, whenever I stopped by the Mall of the Emirates, making my way from one end to the other was often a perilous journey through tightly packed, constricted walkways. As the economic panic crested, the same walk soon because a casual stroll through those same halls. You could pirouette and throw your arms about in any direction and not worry about hitting a soul. Today, however, I noticed that the crowds were a touch thicker, and the halls a touch thinner. I was so used to the wide open halls, that as I chased my daughter during one of her many fits of laughing mischief, I very nearly knocked over a brand new real estate display. Some building, somewhere, I didn't bother to remember the details, was offering space at the low, low price of a small fortune. Just like old days.
Back a year ago you could hardly navigate the halls of the Mall of the Emirates, what with the overwhelming profusion of real estate kiosks, to a one proclaiming that the entire development was Sold Out!, yet somehow they still wanted you to sign on the dotted line.
So, so many of these dream opportunities, these super-ultra-mega luxury accommodations where your neighbors would be so rich they only fueled their fireplaces with hundred dollar bills, and wouldn't be caught dead puttering around their palatial pads wearing slippers that cost less than a Toyota Corolla. I always wondered just how many of these developments had made it beyond the glossy brochure stage, and when the crisis hit, we had out answer - not many.
By the sudden disappearance of the plethora of real estate kiosks, I can only surmise that developers were in a scramble back then to cut costs, to retreat, and reorganize. That the developers are reaching out again, albeit in a more reserved way thus far, perhaps it is a sign that things are getting better. Then again, it may be that they've decided that some projects were well enough along that the best course of action was to try and fill them up. What could be canceled, I am quite sure, already has. But what's standing, empty and bleeding cash, needs to find a few occupants. Or what may occur, which has already happened in the US, according to NPR, the few remaining occupants may find themselves living in a building with no owner, with no one to pay for power, for water, or even basic upkeep.`
Over the next while it will be interesting to see which buildings get finished, and which seem to stay only partially constructed, day after day, and month after month. With the Emirate demolish them? Or let them stand? Around and about where I live there are more than a few apartment buildings under construction, in an area that looks more and more like a ghost town lately, and yet the projects are all fully staffed and steaming along. Then again, being so close to the Dubai Metro is probably why the developers involved are taking such a gamble. Still, it is an encouraging sign that things may be looking up.
Yes, despite the doom and gloom, and the daily depictions of apocalypse heading pour way, I feel oddly reassured that things will be okay here, in this tiny corner of the world. In the time it has taken for city council members back in my home town of Toronto to decide on what kind of soy-tofu organic pita they want street vendors to sell, the Emirate of Dubai has built a Metro system that is 20% longer and with almost as many stations as Toronto's entire subway system. A decade ago, when I was doing my undergrad at York University, they had been talking about extending the University line by two stops. They are still talking about it today.
Back home, when something needs doing, they talk about doing it. Here, it gets done.