Technology impacts on Dubai’s changing urban landscape


The way we live, work and play in today’s modern world is evolving at a rapid pace and having a major impact on the structure of our cities and how they operate.

Technology is a key lever in this evolution combined with the added effect of people seeking new experiences from the spaces they call home or the office. This couldn’t be truer than in Dubai, one of the fastest growing cities globally over the past 30 years where these trends are expected to have a profound impact over the next 10 years.

Dubai has always prided itself in being one step ahead of the competition, leading to its exponential growth and reputation for achieving many firsts on the global real estate stage.

This growth all began with recognition of Dubai’s strategic location between major cities in Europe and the West, Asia to the East and India to the South.
The city has since become a major global hub and leading  commercial destination serving the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and beyond.

Another key step in Dubai’s economic growth has been the creation of numerous free trade areas where foreign businesses can operate without the need for a local sponsor or partner. These free zones, of which there are now 26, were based on the concept of concentrating industries in the same business sector together.

For example healthcare companies in healthcare city, financial companies in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) and design companies in Dubai Design District (d3).  

There is a growing recognition of the need to change and adapt and the real estate sector has a key role to play in this evolution

This model has served Dubai well but there is now a step change occurring as many of the fastest growing companies of today are seeking synergies between sectors and not those in the same business sector. The city is embracing this evolution and undertaking a number of changes to its operational set up. Many of the fastest growing technology hubs overseas are those that provide opportunities for those from very different backgrounds, from lawyers to entrepreneurs, designers, musicians, doctors and financiers, all looking  to interact in both formal and informal settings.

There is a growing recognition of the need to change and adapt and the real estate sector has a key role to play in this evolution. The question is, how is Dubai responding to this evolution where human experiences are now driving commercial and real estate structural set ups.

An initial change has been implemented to break down the barriers between free zones and on shore businesses. The issuance of more ‘dual licenced’ projects and announcements that certain types of overseas business will now be able to operate onshore without the need for a local partner.

Physically there is the need to promote greater integration of different types of companies within the same precinct, focusing on variety rather than single sector projects. This has the ability to create cross sector synergies.   

The city also needs to further facilitate the growth of start-ups and small businesses that can’t often afford traditional office space in prime business areas. Also, in the past, firms have traditionally been required to rent a minimum amount of real estate for each visa issued. Continued relaxation of the visa and work permit regulations will be important to boost economic growth in the emirates.

With technology on the rise, it’s important to recognise that smart tech is a means to an end and not an end to themselves. The end objective is to create a sustainable environment where businesses want to locate and employ people.

Dubai has the ability to embrace these trends and adapt to what people and businesses need with the added benefits of leveraging smart technology.


This edited article first appeared in Arabian Business.

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