Dubai skyline, Burj Khalifa, Downtown Dubai
The arrival of Expo 2020 signals a moment for even more far-reaching changes than Dubai has been witness to. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The city is bristling again. As the gates of the World Expo open to welcome the world, Dubai stands on the cusp of reinventing itself once again for the future, increasingly asserting its importance in the world of commerce and life.

As asset prices rebound and the city roars back to life in all of its vigor, the stage is set for a transformation of industries as wide ranging as fintech to food production, while the superior infrastructure that has been set in place serves as a pillar for creativity to unleash its forces through the local, regional and the world economy.

During the worst period of Covid, Dubai (just like the world) reeked of loneliness, with people sitting immobile and lost in their own worlds. That memory seems to be a distant nightmare as one walks around the city, feeling its energy and optimism of its recent immigrants and residents.

Henry James spoke of the “multitudinous movement of the serried bristling city” back in 1904, but it applies more than anywhere else to Dubai. There is no doubt that challenges remain - from debt restructurings to job creation at the rate that the city has been historically used to - and certain pockets of the economy continue to require support from regulators and banks.

Some pain, more gains

This is especially true for the SME sector, where creativity levels have historically been far higher than anywhere else. Many of these challenges will take time to overcome, and undoubtedly there will be more casualties - as there are in any downturn.

In the world economy, bubbles seem to be everywhere and its inevitable downturn will further create headwinds as speculative monies disappear. In terms of asset arbitrage, the money flows to markets like Abu Dhabi and Riyadh already show that smart monies have started to shift their allocations.

So has the real estate boom, especially at the top end as family offices have bene set up at an increasing pace, capitalizing on the ease of business operations. In the startup and SME sector, for all of its struggles, there has been an uptick in new formations as new ideas bubble to the surface, backed by equity “risk on” capital that is now accessible.

Aiding return to growth

However, even here, the platform provides the opportunity for exactly this kind of experimentation to express itself. At the back end, regulatory policy changes - from cost reduction to the ease of arbitration process, in addition to long-term residency permits - have set the stage for the demand curve to move higher, as it already has in the asset markets.

Nothing attests to this more than the fact that many who left the city have returned, with their aspirations burning anew, being attracted to the chutzpah culture that the inner sanctums of Dubai represent.

The Expo, just like the world fairs of the past, serve as important beacons for a changing of the zeitgeist, more than just an exposition regarding business opportunities. It serves as a gateway for the arts and sciences to synergize in a symbiotic rhythm that transforms culture over time.

This applies to no other city as it does to Dubai. After visiting New York from Camden, Walt Whitman wrote: “I find this visit and the daily contact and rapport with its myriad people the best most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken.”

Waiting at the entrance of the World Expo site, it is hard for anyone not to feel the same way about Dubai.