The media recently reported that Dubai’s population is soon expected to surpass the two million mark, after a sudden increase of 22,000 people in three months. This represents an increase of about 100,000 people since 2010. It also means that Dubai is the most heavily populated emirate in the UAE, accounting for a quarter of the country’s eight million inhabitants.
Who all these new residents are, and what exactly they do, remains a mystery to me. What seems a certainty, however, is that many are living in high-rise apartment buildings, the de-facto accommodation standard of the emirate. It’s a particular irony that a few hours from the 650,000 sq km Empty Quarter, one of the largest sand deserts on the planet, Dubai has concentrated on squeezing in as many people as it can into as small an area as possible – and seems to have only then thought about things such as roads, pavements, transport links, community facilities and other amenities.
I have changed apartments three times while in Dubai, and have never lived higher than the fifth floor. This is good, because high-rise living is really for the birds. In South Africa, where I’m from, having a standalone home with a large garden is pretty standard – I have half an acre. Here in Dubai, some of the most expensive properties are villas with gardens the size of generous handkerchiefs.
What’s particularly annoying about high-rise living is it puts you into contact with, or at least in close proximity to, people you would not normally associate with. And these people often behave as if they were, indeed, staying in grand villas all on their own. How else to explain the neighbour immediately above, who woke me up past midnight one Saturday with 40 minutes (I timed it) of terrific clanging and banging? Granted, it could have been a plumbing emergency; yet my tolerance ebbed when it happened again soon thereafter, this time with drilling and hammering. Was he/she disassembling car engines in the lounge, or carving up bodies? Do some people attack furniture while in their sleep? Is there such a thing as ‘sleep-punching’? ‘Sleep-DIY?’
A colleague told me that his neighbour decided to hang picture frames on their adjoining wall early one Friday morning. Another explained that his neighbour has a baby that cries like a lorry (?), with a mother who is an opera singer by trade. Then there are the pinging elevators, loud music and blaring televisions, high heels down tiled corridors, and delivery men who get the apartment number wrong. Yes, high-rise living is for the birds, and I just want to fly away.