Cityscape post show

Cityscape is not back

Large-scale urban planning seems to be the focus for future Gulf cities.
Large-scale urban planning seems to be the focus for future Gulf cities.
Cityscape 2009 was about showcasing finished or ongoing projects.
Cityscape 2009 was about showcasing finished or ongoing projects.
Cityscape never fails to attract high profile visitors and local heads of state.
Cityscape never fails to attract high profile visitors and local heads of state.

As Day Three of Cityscape Dubai kicked off, I published an editorial piece suggesting that Cityscape Dubai might reclaim its place among the largest and most influential trade shows in the industry.

I waxed optimistic about the potential for it to be the spark that would ignite the flame of creativity throughout the industry and the region.

In that article, I pointed to the buzz that had returned to Dubai’s International Exhibition and Convention Centre along with the queues of curious visitors and savvy businesspeople looking to steal glances of the latest project launches.

A month later, as I wait patiently for the official post-show report to be released, it is clear to me that Cityscape is not back. It wasn’t a failure, but it’s certainly not back.

In fact, I’m not sure if this particular show in this particular city will ever experience the circus-like atmosphere it achieved in 2006 and 2007.

I’m not sure if this exhibition will ever garner the gaudy numbers—81,162 in 2008—that have come to define it since its inception. Despite how that sounds, it’s a good thing.

Regardless of where they are positioned in the building cycle, few in the industry would ever agree that the pace and fervour of pre-credit-crunch Dubai was either healthy or sustainable.

In fact, despite the overflowing coffers of the boom years, I never met one architect or engineer that honestly enjoyed working at that breakneck pace.

If the 2009 Cityscape did nothing else, it reaffirmed that the industry is regrouping and preparing to traverse the largely unfamiliar path of stability and achievability in its projects.

Unofficial reports claim visitor numbers for 2009 were down 50% (38,000) from 2008 and exhibitors were down from 340 to 218 over the same period.

If those numbers are accurate—and I suspect they’re not far off the mark—pundits and jounalists across the land will be looking to stick their proverbial forks in Dubai because, as the saying goes, “it’s done”.

Call me overly-optimistic or even naïve but I’m not so sure that’s the case.

“We saw a shift back to market fundamentals at Cityscape Dubai this year,” explained Rohan Marwaha, managing director of Cityscape Dubai.

“The speculators and other amateur investors were conspicuous by their absence as were any hint of unrealistic or dazzling developments. The mood was sober and professional.”

Well said Mr. Marwaha. What he didn’t have a chance to explain was that international participation actually increased as a year-on-year percentage, with stands from Sudan, Angola, Paris, and companies from Canada and Australia, complemented by a healthy regional presence which extended across the GCC and Iraq.

Feedback from the industry has been similarly positive. Even in Cityscape’s very obvious move away from an architecture and design focus, some of Dubai’s big players were pleasantly surprised by the show.

Floris Smith, director of architecture at DSA Architects—also profiled in this month’s Q&A—found Cityscape “quite amazing”. He said: “The number of enquiries we got from around the UAE was actually quite stunning. We also got four or five enquiries from developers in Syria.”

Matthew Becker, director of operations for Perkins Eastman UAE, was also surprised. “We expected something similar to that encountered at Cityscape Abu Dhabi – an absence of clients and an abundance of job-hungry consultants poaching off each other. Cityscape Dubai surprised us by evidencing a very decent quantity of clients, representing a broad geographic area, including Africa and Asia, who discussed real projects.”

Rami Nasser, director of sales and commercial leasing for Aldar Properties, was similarly impressed with what he considers the “preeminent real estate show in the region”. Like many of the region’s large developers, the Aldar strategy focused on showcasing nearly finished projects and delivery and maitenance of existing ones.

“This year’s event was a good opportunity for us to showcase…the first Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix,” said Nasser.

“We also featured Al Raha Beach, our major waterfront development where delivery of the first districts (Al Bandar, Al Muneera and Al Zeina) will begin in 2010 and Trust Tower, a Grade A commercial office building in the heart of our Central Market re-development in the heart of Abu Dhabi.”

Perennial big player Nakheel also put its efforts into showcasing its handover and management capabilities as Palm Jumeirah, Al Furjan and 33 islands on The World made up the lion’s share of what was on offer on its stand.

“Nakheel demonstrated its role as an industry leader in the field of master-planned communities this year at Cityscape 2009. We focused on exhibiting our prime communities that are close to completion…,” said a spokesperson from the Dubai-based developer.

Despite a tumultuous 2009, Nakheel left Cityscape quite optimistic about what the rest of the year will bring and where its main efforts will be focused.

“We have an extremely active fourth quarter ahead of us and our attendance highlighted our commitment to delivering units and services to existing investors and residents.”

Egyptian developer SODIC was pleasantly surprised by what it considered a clear lack of “fluff” and enjoyed the attention it received as the only Egyptian contingent at Cityscape.

“As a company we feel our expectations were met,” said SODIC PR professional Esmat Elnahas. “We felt a marked interest in our projects and received a lot of media attention.”

Mohamed Fahmy, vice president of EHAF Consulting Engineers, approached Cityscape Dubai with a healthy dose of clarity and perspective. “Cityscape is not only a real estate show.

It is a gathering place for professionals who are interested in real estate products,” said Fahmy. “We use it to meet people, friends and clients from the GCC. It expands the business network and reveals potential projects. For us, this is important.”

While Fahmy seemed very clear about what Cityscape is, perhaps more importantly, he understands what it is not. “We don’t expect to sign deals in such shows, unless it is planned ahead. We expect to expand our business network and explore new opportunities with developers.”

Despite reports of 472 cancelled or shelved projects in the UAE and a lack of ‘high-profile’ project launches at Cityscape, Marwa remains unfazed. He is bolstered by the Cityscape Intelligence study that reported US$ 900 billion worth of ongoing projects in the country.

In fact, Marwa insists that the Cityscape strategy for the foreseeable future will be driven by principles that were prevalent this year: realism and transparency.

“We will continue to tailor this event to meet the requirements of real estate professionals, whether locally, regionally or internationally,” he said.

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