Landscape is a reflection of ourselves, our past, our present. There's very little landscape left untouched by humans (if any). As such, it is always becoming, unfolding before our eyes, developing. Our desires and expectations are reflected in the landscape art we create, and often this feeds back into architecture itself, a curiously slow feedback loop in a contrastingly fast environment. This is why architecture is so important to any culture, old or new.
It stands to reason that, given a totally blank slate (let's say a virtually empty desert), take a massive sum of money (let's say from oil revenues...I think you can see where I am going with this), the city that we build is a reflection of our modern society. A reflection of our desires and wishes. A repetition of the exploitations we pretend are from our past.
Isn't that a bit depressing? Dubai is our reflection? Dubai is what we chose to create with all those options and money? It's not exactly Atlantis.
There is a point to this. In recent years one of the largest untapped reserves of natural gas in the world has been discovered along the East African Coastline. The reserve stretches from Somalia right down to Mozambique, leading to large foreign investment for the necessary development (the whole coast has virtually zero infrastructure or expertise in anticipation of such a discovery).
One development is in Kenya. Situated in a natural inlet in a very quiet stretch of coast, it is going to be absolutely enormous. The shipping channel required brushes a few hundred metres from Manda Island, on which there is a small airstrip for a very popular tourist destination on the other side; a deeply cultural swahili trading port and a world heritage site, Lamu. It is a fishing port as much as a tourist one - small scale commercial fishing and big game fishing for tourists. In fact, East Africa is world famous for billfish.
The development is cause for optimism. New jobs, new investment, less dependance on the tourist dollar. The Swahili traders have survived and adapted to a myriad of changes in their long history. There is, of course, a concern that the jobs will go to foreign expertise, that the best paid employees will be from the investing countries.
I doubt there is much cause to worry, as local politicians campaigned in the recent elections on a solid promise. They even flew in a delegation from there to advise on how to develop like they did, because the promise is that "Lamu will be the new Dubai".
Shouldn't someone tell them?
Images taken on an exploratory trip to Lamu in early 2013. See more here.