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Reem Al Hashimy (centre) and Hala Al Badri (right) during the session on 'Cities of the Future' at the the 15th Emirates Airline Literature Festival in Dubai on Thursday Image Credit: Sajila Saseendran, Senior Reporter

Dubai: Dubai is a city that builds the future with advanced technology and resilience, but takes care of and keeps its people above everything else, a UAE minister said at the 15th Emirates Airline Literature Festival (Emirates LitFest) 2023 on Thursday.

Minister of State for International Cooperation, Reem Al Hashimy made these remarks during a session on “Cities of the Future” with Director General of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, Hala Badri, which was moderated by Emirati writer Eman Al Yousuf.

The session saw a captive audience among whom was Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairperson of Dubai Culture and member of Dubai Council.

Al Hashimy, who was hugely instrumental in Dubai winning its bid to host Expo 2020 and a driving force behind the massive success of the global exhibition even amidst a pandemic, recollected how a call from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, changed her life.

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She said Sheikh Mohammed had called her and asked her about what she knew about the World Expo soon after she returned home after attending the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. “He then told me to study the possibility of hosting the Expo here in Dubai. That call changed my life,” said Al Hashimy, who went on to become the Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai and the CEO of Expo City Dubai Authority.

Distinguished team

She attributed her success in running the Expo 2020 Dubai to the confidence that Sheikh Mohammed entrusted in her, and to the support from his distinguished team.

Talking about building cities for future, Al Hashimy said she does not believe that cities can thrive if they don’t put their focus on the human beings and follow a people-first policy.

“What is most important is to focus on the people ... and that is what see here in the UAE under the wise leadership. This is what we see first-hand with federal government and at official levels. This is important in our planning, strategies and work.”

It is the people who build a city and they need to abide by the requirements of the city. “That is what we see in Dubai.

Dubai is city of resilience and people here adapt to the requirements and needs of the city. They achieve their dreams, meet challenges, gain confidence and go on.”

Al Hashimy said it is considered as a national duty to support talents.

“We need to develop talents, keep them and grow. A city doesn’t build by itself. It is the people who build the city. We, people, contribute in building it and protecting it. We cannot build a city without focussing on its talents … If we only depend on technology, we become soulless.”

Expo City — a city of future

After the Expo 2020 Dubai, Al Hashimy pointed out that the focus shifted from the event to building a city.

She said the Expo City Dubai is a city of future that has embraced all living things.

Unlike a Central Business District where people come to work during day time and leave in the evening, Al Hashimy said the Expo City Dubai opened its doors tor residents to have their homes and live in a sustainable ecosystem that respects all creations. “This is why when you go to the Expo City, you have the birds and plants and cats.”

Emiratis have always kept their values of modesty and have been keen on engaging in dialogues and promoting diversity for growth, she said.

The pursuit to sustainability and clean energy started several years ago and hosting the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Headquarters in the UAE has been a milestone achievement. “By the end of this year, we will host another milestone event, the COP 28. All these had been sowed in us. As we started our journey of development, we planted it.”

“We can build cities that can listen to the viewpoints people and people who listen to the requirements of the city. For example, during COVID, we had an exceptional experience in the UAE. Despite having various nationalities, we were all committed to follow the health criteria and requirements to safeguard Dubai. If you see rubbish, you go clean it here because you have a sense of belonging, you being at home. You don’t accept rubbish around at your place. This relationship between the city and its people is something that has been created by our leaders. Many countries are now studying how Dubai could reach this level in such a short span of time,” she added.

Dubai’s cultural pursuits

Hala Al Badri, Director General of Dubai Culture, meanwhile, threw light on how Dubai embraced its cultural civilisation and how it is marching forward as a major hub of cultural and creative economy.

She quoted Sheikh Mohammed who said culture is the evidence of civilisation and our life is not complete without economic sufficiency, cultural depth and social cohesion when he congratulated the opening of the Emirates LitFest on Wednesday.

Al Badri gave an example of how Sheikh Mohammed accepted and supported the idea to establish a small creative complex in the middle of the desert in 1998 that went on to play an incubatory role as one of Dubai’s first steps towards international artistic exposure. “Today, it is called the Courtyard in Al Quoz. It is a home of creatives now.”

Further highlighting how the leaders had sowed the seeds to create the cultural platforms of Dubai, she said, in 1963, Dubai had set up a library at a vital location in its heritage area. “Decades later, we had Dubai Media City, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Production City.”

Since being named as the first UNESCO Creative City of Design in the MENA region in 2017, Dubai has launched many ambitious initiatives in the creative field. In 2021, a committee was formed under Sheikha Latifa to make Dubai the capital of the global creative economy by 2025.

Dubai Creative Economy Strategy aims to increase the number of creative and cultural companies and enterprises to 15,000 companies, providing 140,000 jobs in various sectors of the creative economy. It also seeks to raise the economic contribution of the creative economy to five per cent of the emirate’s GDP by 2026.

Activating all enablers

During COVID, when everything came to a standstill, Al Badri said the creative industry bounced back after Dubai put in efforts to meet the challenges and utilise the opportunities for the creative talents here. All possible infrastructure, which are enablers, were made use of as platforms to help the creative industry thrive.

Al Badri said all virtual media platforms have also been fully utilised to support the creative industry. “For example, we have had 11,000 school students visit the Etihad Museum virtually. It is important to have diversity and effective communication with various segments and capitalise on the infrastructure that we have.”

Pointing out that attracting talents is one of the most important and most difficult aspects for many countries, she said the UAE is in the forefront of countries that had granted long term residence visas to talents within and outside the country.

“We also support the creatives to become entrepreneurs. We cut down the steps for them to set up companies from nine to just two.”