Dubai is a city of superlatives. You’ll find the world’s biggest man-made harbour and the biggest international airport, with one of the best duty-free shopping zones. Dubai currently has the world’s tallest building, Burj Dubai, housing the world’s biggest mall, the Dubai Mall.

Hundreds of construction projects require a third of the world’s entire number of cranes erecting corporate offices, business establishments and apartment complexes. Many are in or near industry-specific duty-free free zones, of which 20 are now operational. A dozen more are expected to rise.

There is already a plethora of finished projects, primarily upscale, for tourists and expat workers.  Yet rentals have been rising, due to high demand and low finished supply.

Westerners have long been huddled in the cushy neighbourhoods of Jumeirah, famed not just for its beaches but also for its luxury family dwellings, where foreigners are allowed to own land and custom-design their homes.

Quiet residential areas for the middle-income earners are found in older communities in the historic Bur Dubai district, where low-rise buildings are home to the mostly South Asian community. Alternative residential areas for a wide variety of budgets are rising, spreading out the expat communities.

Expat blogs describe how fast things have changed in Dubai. The incentives for expats to flock to Dubai are strong: they don’t pay income taxes, make a lot of friends from all over the world, and enjoy sunshine for the most part of the year.

Although still very much a conservative society, Dubai has a relaxed, tolerant atmosphere as long as foreigners respect local customs and traditions. Weekends are on Fridays and Saturdays; prayer times are observed.

The seawater Dubai Creek cuts through the heart of the emirate, offering a natural boundary for Dubai’s two main districts.

West of the Creek is Bur Dubai, while Deira lies east. Further past Bur Dubai is Jebel Ali with its huge artificial harbour, and Jumeirah with its beaches filled with residents and tourists alike.

Dubai is expanding both on the sea and into the desert: artificial islands are cropping up, such as the three Palm Islands, while new districts are arising inland, such as the sprawling Dubailand, future home of theme parks and sports cities.