Dubai's property developers are going nuts again

World's largest. World's largest. World's largest.

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You remember what fun the Dubai property market used to be? The skyscrapers? The man-made islands? The way all of the above came with the inevitable tag "world's largest", as if anything less would somehow be a source of national shame? (The dubious treatment of the world's largest overseas labour force, oddly, seemed to produce no such reaction.) Then the world went into recession, real estate prices crashed, and the UAE’s national debts spiked. For the last few years, it's been all quiet on the Middle Eastern front.

But rejoice, for the good times are here again. This weekend Dubai Holding, a property empire whose majority owner is one Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced that it was developing the (wait for it) world's largest mall. Some facts and figures:

  • The Mall of the World will occupy 8 million square feet, approximately one-and-a-half times the size of the current record holder, the, er, Dubai Mall.
  • It's less of a shopping centre than a "temperature-controlled pedestrian city", with a total floor space of 48 million square feet, and 7km of car-free streets.
  • The complex will also include apartments; up to 100 hotels; a "cultural district" (which its owners modestly compared to the West End and Broadway); a "celebration district" (which they compared to Barcelona's Ramblas); and a "wellness district" (hospitals, beauty therapy and cosmetic surgery, together at last).
  • Lastly, the development will feature the (obviously) world's largest family theme park. This will be enclosed beneath a giant glass dome, which'll open to the skies in the cooler months. 

All in all it sounds a bit like a giant Arabic Center Parcs – except that, with the capacity to take 180 million visitors a year, it’s approximately 400 times bigger. Here's a video:

This isn’t the only crazy new property development going down in the Dubai at the moment. Last month, the Los Angeles-based company Reef Worlds, which is best known for designing sets for movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, announced it was developing the (I know, I know) "world's largest sustainable underwater tourism site in Dubai". This'll involve turning part of the artificial island complex known as The World – which was completed just as the crash happened, and thus remains almost entirely deserted – into an underwater tourism attraction modelled after the Lost City of Atlantis.

Fans of shopping/snorkelling/cosmetic surgery shouldn't get prematurely excited about all this: neither project has announced either cost estimates or a completion date. Over the weekend, what's more, the International Monetary Fund warned that there were two big threats to the UAE's economy: one was its over-dependence on oil; the other, the risk of another property bubble.

But it is at least an indication that  Dubai believes its best chance to diversify its economy is through tourism. You can expect to see the words "world's largest" a lot more in the months to come.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Jonn Elledge is a freelance journalist, formerly assistant editor of the New Statesman and editor of its sister site, CityMetric. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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