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The final countdown

The decision on whether Dubai lands the Expo 2020 is near

COMMENT, Business, Projects, Dubai, World Expo 2020

We’re nearly there – the countdown to the decision for the Expo 2020 is just days away. The excitement and expectation in Dubai is tangible and, from the perspective of almost anyone you meet in the region, the Middle East is favourite to secure its first World Expo.

There’s no doubt that I want and expect Dubai to win – the “Connecting minds, creating the future” theme sums up Dubai and the UAE perfectly. Nowhere in the world is better placed to spread the message of working collaboratively to achieve a seemingly impossible vision.

The evidence of this is all around any visitor to the UAE. How many people outside the Emirates would really have believed Sheikh Zayed’s vision could enable the UAE to become a hub for trade, tourism and investment, and one of the most competitive nations in the world, just four decades after its formation?

The UAE has been transformed from a desert to a thriving modern state, and it has done this by becoming a model for tolerance and inclusiveness, making it an incredible place to live, work and visit. This small but incredible nation now hosts more than 200 nationalities of various backgrounds and different faiths.

In terms of its geography, culture and economy, the UAE is the ultimate worldwide connector.

However – and I say this very quietly – if for some reason Dubai does not win the Expo, I don’t think for a second it is going to derail the momentum and drive which we’re now witnessing in the emirate.

Winning Expo 2020 would offer another great boost of confidence and a much deserved global endorsement for Dubai, but it should only be seen as part of the journey rather than a destination in its own right.

The journey itself is the latest phase in the determined continuation of Sheikh Zayed’s vision. The huge ongoing investment which is taking place in the built environment sector is about far more than meeting the needs of any single event. It is about place-making.

When the Atkins designed-and-engineered Burj Al Arab was launched to the world in 1999, the aim was to put Dubai squarely on the map with an iconic and immediately-recognisable building to compare with the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House or the Great Pyramid.

Fourteen years on, our property team is still privileged to be working on stunning architecture in the UAE, including the new Dubai Opera House, but what also really stands out is the work of our urban planners, who have never been busier.

As we approach the UAE’s 42nd National Day on 2 December, there is a huge impetus to invest in intelligent, sustainable communities which encourage healthy, active lifestyles and connect people to the place they live, work and socialise within. A strong and vibrant public realm is at the heart of these new neighbourhoods, as well as excellent links to public transport.

Like the iconic buildings I mentioned above, the benchmark for the UAE’s new neighbourhoods is the most successful cities in the world – Tokyo, New York, London, Singapore... But the UAE isn’t just following – it is seeking to set new standards for the 21st and 22nd centuries.

Atkins’ Group CEO Uwe Krueger recently delivered a speech in London which said that ‘the rapid urbanisation of the world’s population is the grand challenge that unites all other issues’. He said the onus now was for the industry to show imagination, holistic thinking and unprecedented levels of cooperation.

This brings me back to Dubai’s Expo 2020 bid, because the parallels with Uwe’s speech are very clear. The sub-themes of the bid – sustainability (lasting sources of energy and water), mobility (smart systems of logistics and transportation) and opportunity (new paths to economic development) are about tackling these same issues of urbanisation.

The Expo will help shine a light on this to the whole world. Good luck Dubai!

Simon Moon is Middle East CEO of building consultancy Atkins.

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