Founded as a fishing and pearl-diving village in the eighteenth century, Dubai has emerged as a thriving business and financial metropolis, known for its luxury shopping and awe-inspiring, ultra-modern architecture.
Located on the fringe of the Arabian Desert, Dubai is both a city and an emirate in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf. Sitting at the crossroads of Asia, Africa and Europe, the city boasts many world firsts. It has the world’s busiest airport, the largest man-made harbor (Port of Jebel Ali) and the tallest skyscraper — the Burj Khalifa — that dominates the skyline and reclaimed islands including the Palm Jumeirah.
Dubai is now the most populous city in the Gulf region with strong employment figures and a rising per capita income. As oil makes up only 6 per cent of its revenue, Dubai has fared relatively better than its neighbours as oil prices have declined in recent times. The city’s economic strength is attributed in part to the government’s decision to diversify its trade economy. From the late 1960s, the city used oil revenue to create infrastructure and the population expanded rapidly as foreigners flooded in to work on construction projects. Today, tourism, financial services, construction and real estate are the biggest contributors to the economy.
The government has created industry-specific free zones throughout the city. The Jebel Ali Free Zone hosts 7,100 companies. The Dubai International Finance Center is the largest financial services center between Singapore and Europe and the Silicon Oasis hosts some of the world’s major IT companies.
Dubai is an absolute monarchy and has been ruled by the Al Maktoum family since 1833. The city has a big globalized workforce and a large proportion of the resident population are expatriates hailing predominantly from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. While religion plays a significant role in the society’s fabric and there are freedom of speech and gender role constraints, efforts are being made to build a more socially inclusive city with the 2016 appointment of a Minister of State for Tolerance.
In 2013, Dubai won the rights to host Expo 2020. With it came a push for sustainability and place parameters on its urban expansion (The Dubai Plan 2021). The city aims to provide seven per cent of its energy through renewable sources by 2020 with increased targets to 2050 (Clean Energy Strategy).
The government has invested in improving the reliability of its public transport network, though few use it. Cheaper cars, subsidized fuel prices and lower maintenance costs reinforce people’s preference for cars as a mode of transport. However, the city’s Green Mobility Initiative aims to reduce carbon emissions and includes targets like converting half the taxi fleet to hybrid by 2021.
Rapid urbanization, population growth and the effects of climate change are key issues for the UAE Government.
If Dubai continues to strive for sustainability with the same aplomb as free trade, real estate and tourism, the city will no doubt make the successful transition to a green economy hub.
From the late 1970s, housing development was driven by oil and trade. It was typically mid-rise apartments for the transient expat communities and villas for the Emirati nationals. It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when Dubai changed its economic model from reliance on oil to become a center for tourism and business that the development of housing took off.
The Greens, Arabian Ranches, The Meadows, The Springs and Emirates Hills were among the first of the new developments to be built in the wake of Dubai’s boom. They set the pattern to come, which ranged from the mid-rise high-density of The Greens, through the mid-size and large villas of The Springs and The Meadows, to the exuberant Emirates Hills that might well have been an extension of California’s Beverly Hills.
Housing has also expanded vertically with 18 per cent of all tall buildings in the world located in Dubai, many of them totally residential. Highly-paid expatriates and Emirati nationals were the target clientele. Dubai’s latest housing developments have continued in the same vein, with a few exceptions, but even those exceptions still have a target audience of medium earners.
Properties for the rich such as Dubai Hills and Dubai Creek Harbor continue to be developed but a void has been left for affordable housing units. These are for people with salaries ranging from CAD1,060 to CAD3,540 a month, according to the Dubai Municipality. The provision of affordable housing has been a hot topic in the media. The Dubai 2020 Masterplan does not define when and how the city will develop or the percentages of housing types required.
Dubai’s response to the lack of affordable housing was the adoption of a policy last year that classifies low-income people according to nationality, family type and needs. Little is known about the policy and affordability of low-cost housing.
Dubai’s streets fall into three categories: main transit routes for commuters and other traffic, residential streets in quiet suburban communities and bustling night-time shopping streets for eats and treats. They all showcase a history of the development of Dubai from the late nineteenth century Bastakiya Quarter to the ultra-modern downtown Dubai.
The two authorities in Dubai governing the public realm are the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) and Dubai Municipality (DM). The RTA is the custodian of the Right-of-Way (ROW) and has established a protocol for arrangement of traffic lanes, on-street parking and utility services within each ROW. DM is the custodian of the public realm within the ROW and sets the minimum requirements for planting, street furniture and finishes. Because both organizations are public authorities with budget constraints, publicly funded streets have much the same look and feel all over the city unless they are part of an iconic development. Minor changes to the protocols are always being considered but there is no plan to overhaul them.
Companies such as Emaar, Meraas and Dubai Properties use the same protocols in building streets in their developments but have much larger budgets and need each project to look different from the last.
Squares and piazzas in Dubai are relatively few but developers are starting to integrate them into their projects as areas for people to walk, gather and enjoy the surroundings.
Dubai’s coastline has increased five-fold in the past 30 years from about 60 kilometers measured from the Abu Dhabi border to the Sharjah border to more than 300 kilometers with the development of the Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Jumeriah and World Islands, to name a few. The latest increase was added only two years ago with the dredging of an inland channel that joined the natural Dubai Creek to the Arabian Gulf creating an inland island. These developments and others, including the 75 kilometer Arabian Canal, are all part of the Dubai 2020 Urban Masterplan.
Not all of Dubai’s natural beachfronts are open to the public. Some belong to the many royal palaces or are the province of hotels; others belong to private villas. Dubai Municipality’s planning strategy for natural public beaches has been slow to incorporate boardwalks, amenities and cafes. Only one undeveloped beach accessible to the public remains.
In a desert country such as the Emirate, where temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius, green space is important. The current requirement is a minimum of 13.5 square meters of green space for every inhabitant. Under the ever-evolving Dubai Urban Masterplan this could be raised to 25 square meters in the next few years.
Land and property developers have also been key to the recent development of green spaces with the vast majority of projects encouraging walkability and incorporating green spines for residents to enjoy and attend social events.
DM and RTA have an ongoing initiative as part of the Dubai Urban Masterplan to landscape the city’s main road infrastructure by providing a mixture of grass coverage and automatic irrigation systems.
Treated sewage effluent is recycled and used as the source of water for all public green areas. This standard approach by DM has proved vital in the growth and development of the city’s green areas.
The healthcare system has both government and private facilities to cover all eventualities. In 2016, the five-year Dubai Health Strategy was developed to transform Dubai into a leading healthcare provider.
Dubai has become a healthcare tourism destination, and intends to capitalize on this success through the Dubai Health Strategy. This is only one aspect of a 15-point strategy that also focuses on preventative medicine and chronic disease management.
As with healthcare, education is provided by government and private establishments. But the difference is that government schools can only be attended by Emirati nationals. There is no established curriculum or educational standards outside of the government system.
Private schools in Dubai base their curriculum on their students’ countries of origin or on whatever best business case they generate. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority is responsible for the growth and quality of private education in Dubai. It supports and monitors schools, universities, parents, students, educators, investors and government partners with the aim of creating a high-quality education sector focused on happiness and wellbeing.
The Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) has a critical role in achieving the vision of the Dubai Strategic Plan 2021 to establishing the city as vibrant, global Arabian metropolis that shapes culture and arts in the region and the world.
As a result of climate change, the direct effects of extreme weather conditions are likely to hit Dubai hard. It is planning to cope with rising sea levels, flooding and increased rainfall in several ways. Reforestation projects are under way and there will need to be big modifications to existing infrastructure.
With plans to mitigate the effects of climate change, projects such as mega solar farms and electric vehicles have been initiated in the city.
Dubai planning standards (including the green building requirements) also incorporate futuristic requirements and consideration of the environment and climate change impacts.
At a federal level, the UAE has commissioned studies into the challenges it faces from climate change. Some of the areas it is focusing on include reduced reliance on fossil fuels through the construction of the UAE’s first nuclear power station, reduction in water consumption because of the power used by desalination plants in treating it, and increased public transport.
The RTA has prepared an update of the Transport Masterplan that lists projects to be completed between 2020 and 2030 covering road, rail, buses and marine, including travel demand management measures.
Projects such as the Metro system, feeder buses, upgrade of strategic corridors and the development of integrated mobility platforms are identified in the master plan and funded accordingly. The key objectives are:
Increasing public transport use by 30 per cent by 2030
Lengthening the public bus network to about 4,300 km in 2020, then to 5,400 km in 2030
Increasing the marine transport network to be 60 km with 22 terminals.
The Urban Planning Masterplan to 2020 has been designed to cater for city growth following principles such as integration and sustainability. This includes the optimization of existing transport infrastructure while keeping a balance against land uses with an emphasis on public transport.
Dubai has followed the 2020 Urban Planning and 2030 Traffic and Transport Masterplans in developing several modes of transport and paying attention to interchange and multimodal travel. The modes include the Dubai Metro (extension being designed), taxis, buses, water taxis, feeder buses and tram systems. Bus Rapid Transit and demand-responsive systems are being studied.
A passenger and cargo network connecting the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman — has been pushed back to 2021 in the aftermath of the oil price plunge. The UAE suspended construction of its portion of the network in 2016. The 1,200-kilometer railway network project is now being built in stages to link the principal centers of population and industry of the UAE.
Dubai is also considering the rail Hyperloop as an ultra-high-speed connection with Abu Dhabi.
The RTA and the Smart Dubai Office have agreed to extend the existing electronic ticketing system and its NOL card as a means of payment for services across Dubai. A smart ticketing system that will check passengers in and out using smartphones is also being developed by the RTA.
Dubai has established itself as a global logistics hub, acting as a gateway between Europe and the Far East. The Jebel Ali Port and associated free zone is capable of handling about 15 million twenty-foot equivalent units (containers) a year. The introduction of free zones has also facilitated market growth by easing the regulatory standards as well as the fiscal pressure, attracting companies and investors as a result.
Dubai is generally recognized as a hub for both air and sea travel. Dubai International consistently tops the list of the best airports in the world for flight connections (serving 140 airlines and 270 destinations), passengers and facilities.
The Dubai Airports Strategic Plan 2020 aims to increase annual international traffic from 60 to 90 million passengers by the end of this year for Dubai International alone. At present, it is upgrading Terminal 2 to expand its capacity to 10 million passengers a year while Dubai Al Maktoum has been experiencing a steady growth in the past five years. Similarly, the port has state-of-the-art facilities and is the logistics hub of the region.
Active transport modes have been prioritized in the past few years. Pedestrian planning is more developed than cycle planning. Dubai has the most advanced regulations and planning for these two modes in the Gulf. Attention has been given to pedestrian safety and comfort with more areas equipped with shelters, air-conditioned facilities, raised paths for crossing roads and low-speed zones with pedestrian priority. Planning regulations from the RTA, such as those for Dubai Pedways, address maximum walking distances, pedestrian desire lines and shading, among others. Plans are also in place to increase the provision of bike lanes, ensuring safety standards and minimizing cycle and vehicle accidents. Much work has been done to develop cycling lanes, which now cover 316 kilometers. A total of 850 kilometers is planned by 2030.
BUILT FORM: PARKING PROVISIONS
BUILT FORM: PARKING PROVISIONS
Because of a dramatic increase in the population and in the number of private vehicles in recent years, Dubai has been the first in the Gulf to implement best practice guidelines that discourage the use of private cars while providing public transportation alternatives. The use of private vehicles and traffic congestion remains today. The government has a strategy in place, together with an adequate regulatory framework, to tackle these problems.
The RTA has plans to regulate parking in the city by promoting increased parking rotation, shared parking and metered parking. Based on an updated zoning strategy, RTA issues permits for resident parking, paid parking in controlled areas and parking for the disabled and elderly depending on zone types (commercial zones, non-commercial zones and special areas). In addition, the government has increased the number of park-and-ride sites to promote interchange and the use of public transport as well as introducing car-pooling initiatives.
The RTA has implemented shared mobility services via several different platforms, some of which are still at the testing stage. The market does not seem to be mature enough when compared with those in Europe and North America. Uber, Careem and similar services could benefit from fully developed platforms although usage is relatively low.
As part of the Traffic and Transport Masterplan 2020, the RTA has developed an Integrated Mobility Platform (S’Hail) that will bring together the entire Dubai public transport offerings in a single smart App. Dubai has completed the tests of the two-seater autonomous air taxi, which will take customers from origin to destination without human intervention.
Dubai has given much attention to advanced transport technologies. The RTA is developing plans for driverless trams, autonomous express buses and taxis, electrical vehicles and autonomous aerial vehicles. The Government of Dubai has a Smart Mobility Strategy intended to tackle the resilience of private vehicle-dominated transport and the challenges of laws and regulations for driverless vehicles. It acknowledges the need for flexibility in changing or upgrading legislation to accommodate new technologies. The initial target is that 23 per cent of all journeys will be driverless by 2030.
Dubai sees itself as a pioneering city that aims to be at the forefront of all things big and new. Technology is no exception. Although Dubai and the UAE do not offer the diversity of multiple service providers to choose from, their infrastructure and connectivity stands up to global comparison. Ninety-three per cent of homes can access high-speed internet via fiber.
Dubai continues to invest in its connectivity infrastructure. Its goals are set high. Last year alone, it spent CAD1.8 billion. In most cases, fixed internet is still limited to two national service providers, Etisalat or Du, depending on which one is available in a given area. Because of the lack of competition, the cost of service remains comparatively high. At present, it is not clear if the telecommunications authority plans to allow more service providers in the country.
Popular free-to-use video-conferencing services such as Skype, Facetime and WhatsApp calls are blocked at the service provider level, which is an emotive subject with consumers.
Network infrastructure in the UAE and Dubai is among the most advanced in the Middle East. The country has spent billions to realize its ambition of being among the world’s leaders of technology. Further ambitions to make Dubai a smart city that enables all government services to be linked online with real-time monitoring systems through the Internet of Things (IoT) are fueling further investment.
At present the average download speeds for the UAE is 30.79 Mbps, placing it 54th in world rankings, whereas the global average speed is 45 Mbps. With high Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) penetration, the UAE has the scalability to increase its average download speed very easily.
Dubai’s mobile internet platform is fit to rival the world’s leaders. With the average mobile download speeds recorded at 53 Mbps, it is ranked sixth against a global average of 23 Mbps. Dubai’s mobile platforms are set to grow larger in scope and capacity. It has ambitious plans for becoming an early adopter of 5G technology providing between 1-to-10 Gbps that will enable large-scale adoption of internet-enabled devices connected globally via IoT.
A smart city should be able to harness the vast amount of data produced by both its citizens and things that operate within its digital sphere. More importantly, it needs to take decisive steps to open up government data to public use to enable societal development and economic growth.
INFORMATION & DATA SECURITY
INFORMATION & DATA SECURITY
When it comes to large-scale digital transformation, Dubai has been the regional risk-taker. For almost two decades, the city proved to be a trendsetter in embracing digital technology by:
Adopting cutting-edge digital governance approaches
Utilizing information and communication technologies for development
Adjusting policies and regulations to adapt to rapid societal changes and technological advancements
Providing enabling infrastructures for internet businesses
Creating a hub for a knowledge economy that extends to the wider region.
The Dubai Data Establishment is the championing body that will drive forward the use of open standards, develop updated legislation and oversee the application of policies and procedures. It acts as the enabler that provides entities with best-practice procedures by drawing on international exemplars and case studies, support and tools.
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is the exclusive provider of electricity services in Dubai. One of the core objectives of DEWA is to support Dubai Plan 2021 by promoting sustainable development by using energy efficiently and investing in alternative energy sources.
DEWA is also committed to achieving the strategic objectives of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030, which include diversifying energy resources and improving the efficiency of electricity usage. By 2030, DEWA aims to generate 71 per cent of its total power output from natural gas, 12 per cent from nuclear power, 12 per cent from clean coal and 5 per cent from renewables. At the same time, it hopes the demand for energy will fall by 30 per cent.
DEWA also has a role to play in trying to make Dubai the world’s smartest city within three years through three ground-breaking programs:
Installing photovoltaic solar panels on houses and buildings to generate electricity to be used on the premises or fed back into its grid
Providing smart meters that give automatic and detailed readings, allowing customers to monitor actual consumption and manage bills
Establishing electric vehicle infrastructure and charging stations around the city.
DEWA supports the introduction of electric vehicles to decrease air pollution and protect the environment against the impact of transport sectors in the emirate.
DEWA is also the primary provider of clean water services in Dubai, establishing, managing, operating and maintaining water desalination plants and water transmission and distribution networks.
As part of the Dubai Integrated Energy Strategy 2030, DEWA aims to reduce water demand by reverse osmosis, water reuse and efficient irrigation and replace standard taps with ones equipped with sensors.
Dubai Municipality plays a key role in the development of wastewater treatment infrastructure in Dubai. It has a gray water treatment plant for irrigating parks and trees and solar systems to run landscaping irrigation on traffic roundabouts. It is using environmentally biotrickling filters in sewerage pumping stations to remove odorous gases from wastewater.
At present, 76 per cent of water used for landscapes is treated sewage effluent. By 2030 the municipality plans for it to reach 100 per cent.
Dubai aims to achieve zero waste to landfill by 2030. A citywide plan, including more alternative waste management infrastructure and increased tipping fees, has been introduced to facilitate achieving this goal. The only closed-off landfill site in Dubai was remediated into a park and a similar exercise is expected for future landfill sites. The city already has reduced municipal waste generation through public awareness programs and higher fees.
Dubai Municipality has announced that it will establish the largest plant in the Middle East to convert solid waste into energy at a cost of CAD710 million in the Warsan district. The move is in line with the national agenda to reduce landfill by 75 per cent by 2021 and to protect the environment from methane gas emitted by landfills. By the middle of 2020 the plant should be turning 2,000 tons of solid waste into 60 MW of electricity each day. The waste incineration project is the first of four projects to produce green energy.