The $45 billion desert city hosting the World Cup final

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Twenty years ago the entire city was nothing more than a pile of sand.

“There was nothing there, it was like a dirt road,” said urban planner and architect Brian Genet, who worked on early designs for the city. making it. One in 10, 1 in 20, 1 in 100 such things can happen.”

Qatar made sure Lusail did the same. Initially conceived as part of the tiny emirate’s Vision 2030 project, designed to diversify the economy and position it as a global player, Lusail was planned as a tourism hub. I went. But when Qatar won the hosting rights for the World Cup in 2010, the late construction of an 89,000-seat stadium gave this new city a new purpose.

Now, as it stages the world’s most-watched sporting event on Sunday, Lusail stands as a symbol of Qatar’s naked ambition, rapid modernization and its wild excesses.

“Basically, we were building a city from scratch,” said Abdulrahman Al-Ishaq, Lusail City’s master planning manager.

Lusail also serves as a foundation for what Qatar can do next, now that it has successfully organized a functioning World Cup despite years of incredible opposition over its views on the treatment of women, the LGBT population and migrant workers. staged.

Although there were some flashpoints in the first week, including a security overreach involving fans carrying rainbow flags and a sudden decision to ban the sale of beer in and around stadiums two days before the opening game, the tournament went more or less smoothly. .

Given Qatar’s ability to build a city from scratch in the middle of the desert in the span of 15 years, it is hardly surprising that the country was able to organize a 64-game soccer tournament with few operating problems. A new transit system was in the works as planned, and Qatar looked to handle the large influx of foreign visitors who flowed in and out of the country as its workforce rose and fell.

“Thank you to everyone involved, Qatar, all the volunteers, for making this the best World Cup ever,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Friday, four years after calling Russia 2018 the best World Cup ever.

Qatar’s ambition for Lusail does not stop there. There are already plans to move other high-profile sporting events here. The city will stage knockout matches in next season’s AFC Champions League tournament and Formula 1 Grand Prix, while Qatar prepares to host the 2023 Asian Cup and bid for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

As one of the most rapidly modernizing countries on the planet, run by a royal family with total authority and unimaginable wealth, Qatar has been able to invent projects on a scale that few others can imagine or pull off. Let’s hope. But with all that wealth comes some degree of absurdity.

Everywhere you turn in Lusail, Qatar has established itself as the pinnacle of extravagance simply because it can. A pair of towers, which houses a luxury hotel, look like a giant pair of horns, although the official interpretation is that they represent a pair of scimitar swords. The billion-dollar mall, designed to look like Paris, comes with its own canal system and laser light shows every hour. Hanging over Lusail Boulevard is a 98-foot statue of a whale shark.

This World Cup has tourists blinking under the twinkling lights of Lusail and may have wondered why much of the city exists. Lucille replied, “Why not?” Even the city’s original planners were sometimes baffled by Qatar’s requests.

While projects like Lusail may sound like science-fiction, Qatar is not the only Gulf country in the business of materializing cities of the future out of nowhere. Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has begun work on a $500 billion mega-city project on the Red Sea called NEOM.

Janet said, “You operate in the realm of imaginative, fanciful ideas.” amount, chip on the shoulder that they may have [about] To be invisible to most of the rest of the world.”

Invisible is something that is not Lusail. Bordered by the sea to the east and the Al Khor Expressway to the west, the city covers some 15 square miles and is designed to house 250,000 residents in gleaming new skyscrapers, many of which are still under construction. In a country where most citizens spend their time driving from place to place, Lusail’s planners envisioned two radical new features: a working streetcar system and a wide pedestrian thoroughfare, the mile-long Lusail Boulevard. Highlighted, which has over 50 food outlets and is modeled on the Champs-Elysées. Its cost was more than 350 million dollars.

The expense was almost irrelevant for Qatar, which has the world’s third largest proven reserves of natural gas ahead of Saudi Arabia and the US, but the human cost became the biggest blot on the whole project. Human rights groups estimate that several hundred to several thousand migrant workers, mainly from South Asia, died during the construction of projects linked to the World Cup and Qatar’s massive construction boom. Qatar said the number of deaths was 37.

“Whether it should be celebrated or not, it’s a huge human effort,” Janet said. They couldn’t do that 30 years ago. Achievement alone, it’s like the space race.”

Lusail was not originally designed for some future event, such as the one Qatar may pursue at the Olympics. But Qatar has proven time and time again that it is not afraid to make drastic and costly changes quickly. Fifteen years ago, the stadium hosting Sunday’s World Cup final was not in the city’s plans at all.

“Nothing is ever completely blank. But it was a bit more of a blank canvas than most,” Janet said. “This is clearly not the way cities are normally built.”

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