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Building the city of the future today: the example of Dubai
Cass Megraw

Cass Megraw

When it comes to cities taking strides towards tomorrow, Dubai is the leader of the pack, transforming from a sleepy, pearl-diving backwater to one of the world’s most futuristic cities in less than a generation. Today, with its Smart Dubai initiatives and Dubai Plan 2021, the city isn’t showing any signs of slowing its pace.

Following on from last week’s announcement of our partnership with Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, in which we’re helping the city reach its goal of a 25% autonomous transport system by 2030, we thought we’d take a moment to explore some of the other steps the city is taking now to prepare for tomorrow.

Surrounded by barren desert but teeming with stunning architecture and technology, Dubai seems to defy all the odds to be what it is today. Known affectionately as Manhattan of the Middle East, its list of ‘the world’s tallest/largest/biggest’ is an impressive one, including the world’s biggest mall, largest aquarium, second-largest man-made marina, and tallest hotel.

But it’s not just the city’s famed skyscrapers that are reaching for the stars. Perhaps equally as noteworthy and ambitious are the city’s on-going efforts to become the smartest smart city in the world.

Smart Dubai

In 2013, the Dubai Government announced Smart Dubai – a strategy to transform Dubai into a leading smart city and with a vision “to make Dubai the happiest city on Earth.” With 100 initiatives covering transport, communications, infrastructure, electricity, economic services, and urban planning, the aim was to make 1000 government services go smart by 2017.

Features of the initiatives include free Wi-Fi in more than 100 public areas, electric car charging stations, a smart parking system, smart meters, and a smart power grid, among many others.

Late last year, also as part of the plan, the United Arab Emirates also declared itself an “open global laboratory,” in a partnership between the World Economic Forum and the city of Dubai. Referred to as a “brainstorm” for the future, it brings 700 tech experts together to take learnings from today’s fourth industrial revolution and use them to plan for tomorrow.

Dubai Plan 2021

Building on Smart Dubai’s clever foundations, Dubai Plan 2021 puts forward a people- and community-focused effort to take the city even further into the future. Based on the Dubai Strategic Plan of 2015, it focuses on six main themes and accompanying goals:

  • The People: City of happy, creative & empowered people
  • The Society: An inclusive and cohesive society
  • The Experience: The preferred place to live, work and visit
  • The Place: A smart and sustainable city
  • The Economy: A pivotal hub in the global economy
  • The Government: A pioneering and excellent government

Each goal includes a series of aims and Key Performance Indicators, and its smart city aims revolve around accessibility, safety, sustainability, and environmental best practices.

Other firsts

It wouldn’t be an article about a futuristic city without mention of a few exciting tech gizmos that can be found there. Last year, Dubai tested a self-flying taxi service in the sky, and a fleet of self-driving police cars on ground. This came after the RTA announced Dubai would be the first to organize and host a worldwide self-driving vehicle competition.

And to leave you with the most futuristic of impressions, the city also has a crime-fighting humanoid police officer on staff, and will roll out a fleet of ‘robocops’ over the next few years. Seems that, in Dubai, the future we imagined as kids might actually be on its way.