Economic liberalism, stringent social controls and unrestrained urban development make Dubai a laboratory for a kind of urbanism that places the very notion of city and public space in a critical position. The birth of this new way of conceiving urbanism has its roots back in legend. Historically, Dubai has always enjoyed a certain liberalism, even when it was a simple fishing port with a market frequented by different populations. Today, the inhabitants of Dubai are 85 per cent foreigners, mostly Asians, Arab expatriates and Europeans. During the last 20 years, thanks to heavy investment in services and tourism and to a courageous economic policy to attract foreign capital, Dubai has developed from a small city of regional importance into an important international centre.