The event came to a close on March 31 with a display from the United Arab Emirates’ Air Force’s aerobatics team, and performances by Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones and Yo-Yo Ma. But now the party has wrapped up and the guests have made their final departure, will the site become a $7 billion “white elephant” — an unwanted space that becomes a burden on the city?
“It’s a full, comprehensive city,” says Ahmed Al Khatib, chief development and delivery officer for the Expo 2020 site. The space includes homes, offices, leisure facilities, exercise grounds, a mall, and a metro station. According to Al Khatib, District 2020 will also be the largest city in the world to be fully covered by a 5G-enabled network.
“Every corner you walk to, there is a different attraction,” he explains. “The parks, the landscaping, the trees — the entire thing is designed on human needs.”
The idea is for all amenities to be accessible to residents on foot in 15 minutes or less — “Like an old traditional city,” says Dina Storey, director of sustainability operations at Expo 2020.
In total, 260,000 square-meters of repurposed Expo buildings will provide homes and offices for up to 145,000 people.
A green city
The pavilion is partially submerged, which keeps it cool, and has a 440-feet-wide steel canopy covered with over 1,000 solar panels. The building can generate up to 4 gigawatt hours of electricity a year — enough to power about 370 average homes — from the solar panels on the canopy and on the 18 “Energy Trees” around the pavilion.
In the transition to District 2020 it will become the Terra Children and Science Center, a museum and educational facility demonstrating the smart and sustainable capabilities of the site.
According to Storey, District 2020 will also be the first WELL Certified community in the region — a standard that evaluates the impact of buildings on health and wellness. She says that to qualify, “there has to be vegan spaces, organic spaces for eating, and it really focuses on the wellbeing of the people that live here, the animals, and the biodiversity of the space itself.”
‘You need to have a plan in place’
With previous World Expos, many sites have become “white elephants,” says Tim van Vrijaldenhoven, an independent expert in urban planning, and author of “Reaching Beyond the Gold: The Impact of Global Events on Urban Development.” In those cases, the space hasn’t been needed by the city, and so hasn’t been incorporated into wider urban development. Dubai is different, Vrijaldenhoven says, because it’s a rapidly growing city and the site is being integrated into an urban master plan.
He adds that it’s vital that Dubai moves ahead with the development of District 2020 quickly, before people lose interest. “After the event, with every Expo, the momentum is gone,” he says. “You need to immediately have a plan in place for transformation.”
Vrijaldenhoven questions the feasibility of making a city pedestrian-friendly in a location where temperatures often reach 50 degrees Celsius, and adds that sites disconnected from the rest of a city, risk becoming “end of the line” locations. “Unless it’s integrated into a network, with a strategically good location, it’s difficult for people to make the decision to start living there,” he explains.
But he’s generally impressed with the plans. “I think that this is finally a right answer to how to deal with the legacy of Expos and not turning into white elephants,” he says.
“It’s a lot of education, a lot of innovation, a lot of entertainment as well,” says Al Khatib. “In 10 years, I imagine it’s a very busy site.”