You can see the flattened palms from space. Their logo-like shapes span Dubai's coastline, providing prime gulf real estate to interested millionaires. Buyers who want a little more space can even purchase their own private islet on an archipelago shaped like a map of the world.
Since the 1980s, Dubai has exploded to the forefront of global business and tourism. The ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, pursues development as a way to eliminate the emirate's reliance on dwindling oil supplies.
But Dubai's geographical setting limits development: It's a small desert state with a coastline only 37 miles long. High-rises and hotels gobbled up Dubai's Persian Gulf coast in the 1990s, creating a wall of buildings.
In 1993, construction began on Dubai's first man-made island, the future home of the Burj Al Arab, Dubai's famed seven-star hotel. The striking structure stands out from the surrounding skyscrapers, and its location 919 feet out into the sea keeps its shadow from interfering with a nearby beach resort. The Burj Al Arab's offshore success contributed to the formulation of an even grander plan: enormous artificial islands.
Sheik Mohammed first sketched the palm design as a way to maximize beachfront property. The longest frond on the smallest island spans nearly a mile of sea and contains property on both sides.
The state-owned company Nakheel developed plans for three palm islands and the multi-islet World. The smallest palm, Palm Jumeirah, accepted its first residents in the summer of 2007 -- David Beckham owns a plot. The Palm Jebel Ali, a medium-size island, is structurally complete. And the largest island, the Palm Deira, is still undergoing sea reclamation.
In the next section, we'll learn how the palms were built.