Understanding the UAE’s Transnational Real Estate Development Strategies: an Exploration of the Co-Existence of Geo-Economics and Geo-Politics.

Authors: Jorn Koelemaij*, Ghent University
Topics: Economic Geography, Urban Geography, Middle East
Keywords: Speculative urbanism, real estate development, transnational urbanism, FDI, urban entrepreneurialism, UAE, Dubai, Abu Dhabi
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


According to several internationally-acknowledged datasets, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been the largest supplier of transnational real estate development projects across the globe in recent years. Although they mainly invested within the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the geography of their activities increasingly becomes 'global'. Most of these projects resemble the ‘Dubai-model’ in terms of their extravagant design and mixed-use spaces. Furthermore, they generally have in common that they are being accompanied by glossy marketing campaigns, which circulate amongst global elites at real estate fairs and exhibitions. A closer look at those large scale urbanization projects however, shows us that many of them are hardly, or even never actually materialized. This paper explores the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ questions behind this peculiar type of speculative transnational urban development. Combining a quantitative approach that looks at potential explanatory variables behind ‘their’ spatial investment patterns with an agency-focused approach, we aim to eventually address the ‘why question’. On the basis of interviews that were conducted with real estate development experts in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, supplemented by extensive field work in the city of Belgrade, in which an Abu-Dhabi based real estate developer is currently constructing a large-scale Waterfront project, multi-scalar and relational insights were obtained regarding the main stakeholders acting on behalf of the ‘sources’ and the ‘recipients’ of ‘Greenfield Real Estate FDI’. We conclude that, in order to fully understand the construction of global urban fantasies, one needs to simultaneously look at geo-economic alongside geo-political motivations.

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