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What Does Winning the Expo in 2020 Mean for Dubai and the UAE?

Image © Gensler

Before writing up my thoughts on the “Dubai Expo 2020” I had to do some thinking, reflect on all the noise leading up to the win for Dubai and hear out opinions from various parties / industries about things to come leading up to and after the Expo. With 25 million visitors expected at the Dubai Expo 2020, 70% of which are international – how can Dubai make the most out of the opportunities created by holding such a prestigious event?

First and foremost, I have to congratulate the UAE and Dubai in particular for their unified campaign to win over the local and international community in order to seize this opportunity. As I came to understand, their efforts spanned the past 2-3 years under the guidance of Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum (chairman of the Expo 2020 Preparatory Committee) to bring the UAE up to a new level on the world stage. But can the Dubai Expo 2020 Preparatory Committee learn from past macro scaled events such as the Olympics, Grand Prix, Formula 1 and the Common Wealth Games in order to capitalise on the unique placemaking opportunities created by holding such events?

Events such as the Expo bring a massive deployment of funds to ensure the infrastructure, public transportation, hospitality and leisure facilities, health and safety elements are up to par to accommodate the millions of anticipated visitors at the Expo over its 9 month period. For the most part, this is true, but actually it is a continuation of what has already been going on over the past 5-7 years as part of an overall master plan full of initiatives by the UAE leadership. Although some argue that hosting major international events cost countries millions, it has been proven to boost much needed local development and infrastructure. To insure that a positive local legacy is realised the Dubai Expo 2020 Preparatory Committee needs to ensure that the master plans design has initiatives in place that allow for new economic opportunities that will benefit Dubai’s people for many years to come.

Image © Gensler

The ‘Expo’ and other international events have the ability to act as a catalyst that accelerates the creation of existing regeneration and expansion priorities within major cities. The 2012 Olympics allowed London to regenerate its most socio-economically challenged areas of the City and the creation of Yas Island where the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is held, has allowed for desert land to be transformed into one of the world’s largest and most prestigious mixed-use destinations. The buildup of the physical infrastructure, properties and related services, etc. required to bring this event about will undeniably stimulate the UAE’s economy for the next 5-7 years, but there also needs to be an expanded vision that goes beyond physical enhancement and the supply of momentary amenities and spaces. Being an Expo host comes with many economic benefits, it improves business, trade, real estate, travel and tourism sectors and investors will feel more confident and show an interest in investing in Dubai it is estimated that the Expo will contribute $40 billion to the UAE economy, but what will happen to Dubai in the long term.

For the planners and designers involved or hoping to be involved in the Expo 2020 physical build-out, it will heat up in 2014-2015, and has the potential to again become a very competitive situation. According to Deutsche Bank estimation, as much as $43 billion in infrastructure projects will need to be developed in preparation for the event. While opportunities are there, the clients are much more experienced with development projects after the pre/post-2008 real estate bubble. As a result they operate with more caution, pragmatism, price sensitivity and increased design demands and expectations, but at the same time now realize that compromising on the quality of design also jeopardizes the value and longevity of the finished product. While encompassing social outcomes such as bringing diverse people together to celebrate, educate and inspire the UAE needs to focus on longevity, livability and economic outcomes. When the Expo is over the purpose built facilities have to be able to service a new demographic market and clientele, this is where the well-designed/constructed assets will hold their own for years to come.

Image © Gensler

The Dubai Expo 2020 will allow the country to morph yet again and a new community will rise from the sand between the border of Abu Dhabi and Jebel Ali in what is now called Dubai World Central. A new international airport, housing communities, retail centers, commercial offices, hotels is only a small part of the physical building topography that are on the horizon. Dubai is already heating up with three new mega malls under construction, new commercial buildings planned strategically for the Dubai Financial Center (Gensler’s famous Gate Building), as well as vast waterfront development for residential communities on the Palm and the World Islands.

Kathleen Margolis
Tareq's depth of expertise stems from design work in the USA, Europe and Middle East (UAE, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Oman). As the Managing Director for the Abu Dhabi office, he invests in his role as a mentor and guides his staff toward independent and creative thinking, to inspire their underlying passion for design, and to develop key skills, knowledge and depth of experience across a variety of practice areas. From managing large scale complex projects to smaller boutique designs, Tareq has built a foundation of skills and knowledge in design for architectural and interiors projects, construction processes and engineering disciplines, in a variety of industry sectors. Contact him at tareq_abu-sukheila@gensler.com.

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