Land, urban form, and politics: A study on Dubai's housing landscape and rental affordability

Khaled Alawadi, Asim Khanal, Ahmed Almulla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


There is a general perception that Dubai is built for the well-off. The construction of mega developments feeds a longstanding narrative that Dubai is solely a luxurious place. This study assesses this portrayal of Dubai and explores Dubai's residential landscape in terms of morphology and affordability. In particular, we ask: What are the different housing patterns prevailing in Dubai's built landscape? What are the major driving factors that influenced Dubai's housing transformation? How affordable is Dubai to its residents? Does Dubai's built landscape accommodate a large spectrum of income classes? The study argues that to fully assess the affordability of a city's housing, it's necessary to understand its spatial forms, morphogenesis, and the forces that shaped these patterns. Taking Dubai as a case, the study uses geospatial mapping to reveal nine distinct residential patterns in the city's history. The identified patterns are presented under six thematic periods stretching from 1900 to 2016 to highlight the contributing forces that shaped Dubai's housing landscape. Results expand the terms of discussions of affordable housing issues to address concerns related to authoritarian land use control and its impact on housing forms. Findings reveal that Dubai's land use policy creates spatial and housing affordability challenges. The state housing policy of providing large plots and exclusive suburbs for natives and the government's partnership with the private sector to brand Dubai through projects for the well-off have created a formidable housing challenge for the middle class. One major challenge is the lack of sufficient affordable housing units for the middle-class population; rental figures for this group are at crisis point. Only 23% of total housing units, which corresponds to a mere 7% of the total housing floor area in Dubai, are affordable for this group. To eradicate these ills of housing affordability, the planning profession in Dubai must derive practices from a number of internationally recognized planning and rental control policies.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)115-130
Number of pages16
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Dubai's housing
  • Dubai's urbanism
  • Gulf urbanism
  • Housing affordability
  • Urban morphology


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