When the City sets out its plan for the future…Thanks again Dubai

15th March 2021
Gurminder Sagoo
Client Director

Its fair to say that people view Dubai as a new City. While its roots are steeped in fishing, Bedouin and trading history, it is the last 30 years of Leadership, vision and development that have made this ‘new’ city one which plays its part on the Global Stage. However, it was only recently that the question was being asked ‘what next’; we have the best retail malls, the best hotels, the best commercial space, the tallest, the largest and the most innovative. Is this it? We have collectively achieved a lot but is there actually any more to do?

Well the 2040 Masterplan launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, gives us the direction of the City’s next stage of evolution and I have to say that we like it and here’s why.

In 2018, WSP launched the Global Cities Index which ranked the world’s top 24 Global Cities in a survey undertaken by our team of Global Experts; this focussed on 4 key parameters and 21 sub measures:

  • Places
  • Mobility
  • Technology
  • Urban Systems

Dubai took a leading spot under the category of Technology and showed potential in other areas. But why is this important and how does it relate to the 2040 Masterplan? As an Urban Planner and Placemaker, for me, the WSP Global Cities index touches upon some poignant measures for what makes a great City such as housing, public realm, connectivity, climate change to name a few, and to see Dubai featured in this report alongside Copenhagen, New York, Sidney, London, just demonstrated what ‘Vision and Will’ can achieve in such a short space of time.

In reviewing Dubai against these measures, I felt that there was so much more that could be done in our City, so much more to achieve, so much opportunity to take the City in to a mature city development phase; one which looks at its history, its present and its future. The 2040 Masterplan does this.

With its focus devolved down into 5 centres, 3 existing and 2 new and clear targets around population growth, the economy and sustainability; there is a deep sense of ‘future’ about the plan, a feeling of a balanced economy not solely known for its great tourism, but that and much more. There are a few points from the masterplan that I feel excited about and these are set out below.

Deira and Bur Dubai, steeped in Heritage but also the original real estate start of the development of Dubai.

Firstly; Deira and Bur Dubai, steeped in Heritage but also the original real estate start of the development of Dubai. It is great to see them identified as one of the 5 focus centres. These areas have the potential to undergo regeneration, transforming them into ‘Great Places’ without changing their demographics and cost of living.  A transformation that protects their soul but makes them better places for people to live and work. Places that are less carved up by major highways but instead where spaces are given back to people. Where street markets can evolve and culture for arts and creativity live alongside the hustle and bustle of the predominantly South Asian community. We have learned how some Urban schemes have displaced their communities and led to gentrification, areas like Notting Hill in London or the Lower East Side of New York. These are lessons Dubai can look to, ensuring that the very essence of Deira and Bur Dubai remains, the possibilities are endless in these culturally rich districts.

55% of the population will live within 800m of a public transport station.

Secondly; 55% of the population will live within 800m of a public transport station. To take what we have, build on it, and extend its reach and connectivity to ‘The People’ is paramount to any successful mobility strategy – and the underpinnings for economic diversity. The opportunity here lies in going beyond linking people to stations, but also to create spaces where public stations interface with the wider public realm so they are seamless, we have the opportunity to create iconic urban places from these transport nodes. Places where work is at one node and home is at the other. Where people grab their groceries from smaller independents on their way home, where their workplace nodes have cafes and green spaces to take a break and rest the mind. This is what placemaking is about and we have the opportunity to do so under this plan. Dealing with public transport stations as ‘Places’ will help to feed another key point, and that is to double green spaces by 2040.

Double Green Space by 2040.

Thirdly, Double Green Space by 2040. If dealt with as an integral requirement of ‘everything else’, we have the opportunity to make our city Green. Where planting and spaces feel part of our day-to-day life and not just somewhere we visit on a weekend. Not just great architectural landscaping, but softer more usable spaces. If you drive around Dubai on a Friday, you can see there is a huge need for this as people look to gather and meet in pretty much any space they can, yes even in green space that make up some of our major junctions on Sheikh Zayed Road.

Population growth from 3.3m residents to 5.8m

Finally, population growth from 3.3m residents to 5.8m means many things. It means in simple terms more of everything, more social infrastructure, more seamless transport options, more leisure and entertainment, and greater affordability. We also need to look at the urban systems that underpin population growth and how we use and consume power, our waste, and the water we need. All of this needs to support a population set to increase by 70% and we must start to think about this now. About how it can be done in a sustainable manner, how we can think outside the norm and diversify how we produce, consume and discard, all simple function of living that need to be looked at differently. We all have a responsibility here and we should all be excited about the possibilities here.

I find all of the above quite exciting, it has taken me back to the placemaking work I did in my early career years in the UK. The entire 2040 plan shows Dubai is ready for its next evolution, an evolution into a mature city status and I strongly believe that in doing so, it will nurture new economies, continue to improve and diversify our way of life and meet its ultimate goal of being The Happiest City in the World to live.