Woods Bagot’s Paolo Testolini: Dubai is well-placed to realise smart city vision

Masterplanning regional leader on the virtue of being willing to act quickly and embrace future ideas

Dubai is a city that has become synonymous with breaking new ground and doing things other cities in the world could only dream of. Its massive expansion over the past thirty years is testament to that.

For many years we’ve heard about the benefits a smart and polycentric city concept could deliver. Dubai is poised to realise this. With strong, creative leadership, Dubai has the ingredients to lead the transformation to a city that embraces fully the smart city vision, with flying taxis, hover cycles, hyperloop initiatives. Dubai has already started this transformation, with its innovative and entrepreneurial spirit encouraging and setting the scene for the realisation of a smart city that currently seems the stuff of science fiction.

In many ways, Dubai is ahead. Its resilient nature is based on the harsh natural environment that surrounds it. The city has forged ahead, creating and envisioning the thriving futuristic metropolis.

The impact of a fully realised smart city concept would be a revolution, changing the way we think about our environment and plan our communities. As we move into the future, polycentric cities will create compact developments that are more efficient to run; energy, food and water supply will be crucial for the success of any city, and the smart city agenda will help optimise resources and the overall running of the city.

The challenge remains as to how this is fully realised. Such a change could rely on one single catalyst to thrust the idea into a full-blown smart city revolution, with one significant development opening the floodgates to our cities of the future. If not a single piece of technology that ushers in an era of change, it could well be a set of circumstances and an environment created to encourage change.

This is where Dubai has a huge advantage over other parts of the world. It has been willing to act quickly and embrace future ideas, which is one of the reasons the emirate has become such a hotbed for tourism. The challenge now is to capitalise on these conditions and propose the best way forward.

Woods Bagot has influenced the growth of Dubai with major placemaking projects like the Design District master plan and City Walk. Gathering significant data from global cities forms a key part of our approach. Our dedicated SuperSpace team explore the dynamic relationship between space and people, using AI, spatial understanding and analysis to create a human-centric design methodology.

SuperSpace enables the design team to take informative decisions by linking the data of global cities to predict human behaviour and mitigate the challenges of technology versus placemaking. The team worked on the Dubai Design District master plan though the approach of profiling the end user. This helped shape the design to fulfil spatial expectations at the human scale, the core ethos of our approach.

The design intent of the Al Jada master plan in Sharjah was to merge land use to create a mixed-use development underpinned by the Live, Work and Play approach. Our methodology incorporates the idea that if the walking catchment nodes are placed correctly, the rest will flow – land use, density, transport, etc. As we move into the future, these will become more important to create compact cities that are efficient, sustainable and healthy.

Our approach supports fresh thinking and innovation, and puts people and how we use space at the centre of the design process, creating spaces and cities of the future.

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