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The physical layout of District 2020 will play a vital role in offering residents and employees a balanced lifestyle Image Credit: Supplied

With 70 per cent of the global population expected to move to cities by 2050, world’s economies are looking to technology to reduce resource consumption, increase efficiencies and build sustainable urban and rural developments. Quite naturally smart city development is a rapidly growing market.

Market intelligence firm IDC valued the industry at $100 billion (Dh367.2 billion) in 2019, and it is predicted to reach $2.5 trillion by 2025 and more beyond. Dubai, already a recognised pioneer in smart city services, is now getting ready in less than a year to unveil the Expo 2020 Dubai site that will demonstrate to the world smart solutions to conventional urban planning.

Celebration of human resilience

The Expo will be one of the first post-pandemic celebrations of human resilience and ingenuity. It will serve as an example of how to tackle some of the world’s most important challenges in sustainable development and its site will live on in Expo’s legacy as District 2020 — a smart and sustainable mixed-use ecosystem — where people will live, work and play, sustainably, efficiently and happily

At the World Government Summit in Dubai in 2019, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, had discussed the steps being taken for Dubai to transform itself for the future in this direction. Many initiatives are already underway: the emirate has the world’ largest vertical farm that will supply 50 million meals during Expo 2020; the world’s longest automated transport system will connect Expo 2020 with its own metro — shuttling 40,000 passengers per hour, the emirate has adopted blockchain technology across operations in different industries — from aviation to dispensing justice — and aims to go paperless within the next three years.

A sustainable way of life

Talking about District 2020, Ahmed Al Khatib, Chief Development and Delivery Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai, says, “It will see people, businesses and industries come together to collaborate towards a more human-centric, smarter, more balanced and sustainable way of life. The space will inherit Expo 2020’s world-class infrastructure, and will transition into a city enabled by smart physical and digital infrastructure.”

The physical infrastructure of the space will be fitted with the latest internet of things (IoT), as well as other smart technologies that will improve services and optimise how the community operates.

Al Khatib says, “Our LEED-certified buildings are a good example of this – buildings that have been designed and built using embedded smart-metering systems and sensors that will capture data on energy and water use in real time. The site has been designed to be pedestrian-friendly, with interconnected walking and cycling paths, and will have autonomous-vehicle (AV) routes, which will help us to reduce pollution while providing efficient and easy mobility.”

An urban lab

As a mixed-use community, District 2020 will also enable the development and testing of smart-city technologies that provide solutions to urban problems. By providing a testbed for new technologies, services and products, District 2020 will be an “urban lab” that will allow businesses and residents to participate in pilot projects and solutions that can be scaled and applied to other smart cities. “It will attract companies focused on advanced technologies that are driving future progress, such as blockchain, robotics, IoT, AI, VR and AR, 3D printing and cybersecurity,” says Al Khatib.

With UAE government-led initiatives such as Smart Dubai, Dubai Blockchain Strategy, and the UAE’s Strategy for Artificial Intelligence 2031, District 2020 has the supportive framework to implement its smart-city technologies.

The site has also been built with latest technologies and solutions from Expo partners such as Siemens, Etisalat and Cisco, which have all worked collaboratively to deliver this digital infrastructure. Franco Atassi, CEO, Siemens Smart Infrastructure Middle East, says, “When it comes to smart cities, smart means listening. It is listening to the people, to the occupants, to the designers, to the stakeholders on the intention of what they want to do. Based on that, we design innovative and digital technologies. This is exactly what we are doing with smart cities all over the world, and in particular, what we are doing for Expo 2020 Dubai.”

The physical layout of this community will play a vital role in offering residents and employees a balanced lifestyle. Expect to see pedestrianised, campus-style community, communal areas, events and facilities that will foster social engagement and opportunities to collaborate.

WELL Building standard

District 2020 will also be the first community in the region registered under the WELL Community Standard pilot – an initiative of the WELL Building Standard and a rating system that sets a new global benchmark for healthy communities.

The area will also retain Expo 2020’s iconic cultural landmarks, such as Al Wasl Plaza, and the Sustainability Pavilion, which will become a children’s science centre. “Residents and visitors can visit these attractions when they choose and will be able to relive the memorable moments created during the World Expo,” says Al Khatib.

Lessons from the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has also reiterated the need to develop a resilient human-centric urban environment. “We understand the importance of communities having a balanced environment that protects their well-being and ensures quality living. We have addressed this in our human-centric design and will be able to provide residents and workers a space in which they can enable their full potential,” says Al Khatib.

Aspiring to become a blueprint for a smart city, District 2020 will also support the growth of advanced technologies in an environment that can house R&D centres, academia and Fortune 500 companies.

A global hub for entrepreneurs

The world-class, future-focused site will also establish Scale2Dubai, District 2020’s global entrepreneur programme, which gives global start-ups and small businesses the opportunity to scale their business in District 2020. “We recognise the importance of their contribution to our ecosystem alongside large enterprises. We are also collaborating with various private and governmental establishments that are helping us expand our reach into different regional and international markets, and form partnerships that will add significant value. This includes a range of international participants from Expo 2020, who will remain at District 2020, enabling dialogue, business and cultural exchange.”

Since the advent of the pandemic, governments at various levels across the world have been implementing smart city technologies to combat its impact. But what the pandemic has also taught the world is the need for greater communication with residents for digital infrastructure to be deployed in innovative ways. Smart is often related to technology but what District 2020 will show the world is that instead it’s about the people. By enabling the right measures and technology the future city will show the world what it takes to be liveable, sustainable, efficient, secure, resilient, productive, inclusive and transparent.