The developers promised beautiful villas, green paddocks, fountains and horse trails, but two years later, many of the residential projects have stalled. Jeff Topping captures scenes from a sun-bleached science-fiction world of concrete shells and motionless cranes. Dubai and Sharjah have long disappeared in the rear-view mirror when the giant face of a smiling child appears on the horizon. To her right, the sun and windblown sand have already bleached the artist's impression of a luxury villa. The rest of the hoarding has slumped sideways into the desert, exhausted by the effort of keeping up appearances.
Here, on the northern reaches of the Emirates Road, is Ajman Escape. On its website, the development still promises "beautifully nestled villas among green paddocks, sand dunes and horse trails". Almost two years after the design for the equestrian-themed gated community was unveiled, the site appears abandoned. Instead of Arabian stallions, wild camels graze among the foundations. On this stretch of the E311, far beyond the glittering towers of Dubai, the landscape is dominated by vast residential projects frozen in various stages of completion. Most are populated by little more than motionless cranes and, at best, a handful of workers retained for essential maintenance.
Green City - "the colour green stands for hope, idealism and optimism" - still awaits the first of 654 houses and apartments. It hides behind Emirates City, a Dh15 billion project of high-rise towers, lakes, shops and hotels whose bragging rights once included "The World's Largest Single Phased Development!" Launched in 2006, construction was due to be completed this year. The developers, R Holding, do not return phone calls from those seeking clarification.
Al Ameera Village, also in Ajman, should have been completed two years ago. The project, which promised gardens, parks, fountains, coffee shops, restaurants and a "traditional souq" , is little more than a few empty concrete shells. Many of those who invested hard-earned savings here now post desperate messages on internet forums wondering whether they will ever see either their money or their homes.
To the passing motorist, however, the ghost towns of the Emirates Road resemble nothing so much as dreams forlornly waiting to be fulfilled. James Langton