Introducing District 2020 – Dubai's Expo 2020 legacy

We find out how District 2020 is set to become one of the city's most thriving neighbourhoods

Introducing District 2020 – Dubai's Expo 2020 legacy

On November 27 2013, one of the single-most significant moments in the history of this burgeoning city occurred. Though that moment actually took place 5,245 kilometres away, in Paris, at the final round of voting for the host city of Expo 2020. As we all now know, Dubai won that vote (warding off competition from Sao Paolo, Russia’s Yekaterinburg and Turkey’s Izmir), and a huge period of growth for the emirate began.

Fireworks exploded from the Burj Khalifa. A national holiday was declared on November 28 for all educational institutions across the country. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, promised the city would “astonish the world”, come 2020.

It is a project that promises to put Dubai front and centre of the world stage. Twenty-five million people are forecast to visit Expo 2020, of which more than 70 percent are expected to be tourists. Residents too are keen to be involved, with 30,000 volunteers due to look after visitors.

To make it all happen, 45,000 workers will be active on the 4.38 sq km site when construction reaches its peak.

In 2020, the site will feature 180 pavilions dedicated to countries from around the world (120 countries have already signed up to participate in the show), with 75 entertainment events hosted every single day.

But what of the legacy? What plans are afoot to protect and preserve the momentum generated by the show, and the huge investment ploughed into it? How can the site attract future investment and business?

“When we say Expo will have 25 million visitors and be fun for all, people ask what happens after the expo,” says Marjan Faraidooni, Expo 2020’s senior vice president of legacy development and impact, speaking to Time Out at Cityscape, where the show’s legacy, District 2020, was unveiled.

District 2020 will see urbanisation of the Expo site, and plans are already underway to create its long-term future.

Eighty percent of the constructs used for Expo 2020 will be retained for District, and Faraidooni has a crystal-clear image of a residential, commercial and creative hub, a hive of activity, where open spaces equal open minds, and innovation can flourish.

“Businesses will be incentivised to establish themselves there, or to relocate entirely, through financial or employee benefits. For starters, we’re a Free Zone,” she says. “So that provides a lot of benefits, and we’re working on incentives to attract different types of companies to the district.”

Big names are already on board. Siemens, the manufacturing and technology giant, has already committed to relocate its global logistics headquarters to District 2020 – bringing 700 employees with it – and another major brand is due to follow.

There’s also the possibility of units on site being available freehold.

“It [freehold] is not off the table, and we’re officially going out with the sale of assets next year,” says Faraidooni. Prices will be benchmarked against the Dubai market, to avoid disproportionate property prices and maintain demand for the neighbourhood.

Creating a long-term future for an event that itself is still more than three years away is all part of the challenge. Nonetheless, futureproofing has been baked into the Expo 2020 blueprint – with both physical and technological connectivity at its core. Underground parking will be available across the site, with access routes in from the four major highways nearby. The Metro 2020 line will feed the site long after Expo closes, and Jebel Ali Port is a stone’s throw away, too. In addition, District is promised to be the best-connected area in the UAE in terms of technology, as well.

“Because the expo is about innovation and the future, we are creating infrastructure for technology that is the best,” says Faraidooni. “Future visitors and partners will benefit from that infrastructure – as a minimum we will have 5G [the LTE successor].”

All buildings are being designed with future residential and commercial requirements in mind. Buildings will be clustered very close together, for three reasons: to create an urban, homely feel; for natural cooling through shade (also see structures above) and for commercial companies to expand into additional units, with many properties linked together with indoor walkways.

But don’t expect it to be cramped – open spaces, open minds is a key mantra through the design process of District 2020, too. There will be 45,000 sq m of parks, plus regular events at the spectacular epicentre of the entire site, Al Wasl Centre. The Sustainability Pavilion will be retained, and transformed into a science museum.

“Because these places provide inspiration and a moment of reflection, we believe that can work for an integrated community.

“Live. Work. Explore. That’s our stragegy, and sums up how we want companies and people to connect, collaborate and create.”

So how will Expo 2020 continue to inspire ten, 30 or 50 years after the show?

“We’re sewing the seeds today, it starts with Expo,” says Faraidooni. “That will hopefully leave a positive imprint on all those who were part of it, and who visited. District 2020 continues the story of a much bigger journey. Hopefully we can look back 30 years from now and see what we envisioned when we started bidding back in 2013.”

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