Dubai — The shimmering Palace Residences apartment blocks will look out through palm trees, across calm creek waters lapping in from the Gulf towards what developers boast will be the world’s tallest structure. The futuristic, rocket-shaped Dubai Creek Tower will be a “notch” higher than the Burj Khalifa, the current holder of that title, just down the road. Off-plan sales of the Palace Residences were launched in January, with one-bedroom flats on the market for 1-million dirham ($272,000), generating “significant demand”. The plan is for the 6km² Dubai Creek Harbour to eventually house 200,000 residents. The project is a classic example of the “build it and they will come” development model that has served the rulers of Dubai well for the past four decades: carve out a space in the desert or on land reclaimed from the sea; build bigger and better luxury residences; offer top-class amenities; and sit back as wealthy expatriates snap them up. Yet even as construction sites inch ever...

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