Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Why Dubai is the best (biggest, tallest, and coolest) candidate for Expo 2020

In 1968 when then ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum (father of the current ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid) and the ruler of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, agreed to form a federation of what were then then The Trucial States, a British protectorate, hardly anyone could have envisioned what the United Arab Emirates would have become today, nearly 45 years after that historic meeting [eventually seven of the nine 'sheikhdoms' joined the union]. For all intents and purposes, at inception in 1971, the United Arab Emirates could be described as a desolate backwater, despite a strong history of local traditions, and legacy as a trading post. Today, Dubai and the UAE bring forth images of economic strength and progress in an increasingly volatile and definitively confused region. Dubai's development, specifically, is a once-in-a-generation global phenomenon, and the city is unique like no other. As the bid committee for Expo 2020 look to decide on the host city for the world event seven years from now, there really is no other choice but Dubai - and let me tell you why.

1. The other candidate cities are Izmir, Sao Paulo, Yekaterinburg, and Ayutthaya...

There is nothing wrong with Izmir, Sao Paulo, Yekaterinburg, and Ayutthaya but do they really measure up to Dubai? Now before anyone gets in a tizzy or their 'socks' in a twist, they are all great cities! Izmir is Turkey's third-largest city and home to a great literary tradition.  Sao Paulo is one of the five largest metropolitan areas on the planet. Yekaterinburg (in Russia), well it's Yekaterinburg and they have a monument to Michael Jackson. And Ayutthaya was the historical capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Let's just say the final three are likely Izmir, Sao Paulo and Dubai. Izmir is certainly a great city but does not have the global resonance of Dubai. And Sao Paulo...well Brazil has both the Olympics (2016) and the World Cup (2014); are you telling me that they really need the pesky Expo 2020 as well!?

2. The Expo needs a city of significance to make the event significant

Do you remember where the last Expo was held (or even that there is an Expo!)? You could be forgiven for not recalling that it was Yeosu, South Korea. Where was the one in 2010? That's right Shanghai. The Expo 2010 attracted a staggering 73 million visitors and was the most visited exhibition of its kind and brought together 189 different expositions from around the world. While in 2015 the Expo will be held in Milan and in 2017 in Astana (Kazakhstan) it is likely that it would take the Expo 2020 in Dubai to bring the event back to the international spotlight (the governing body regards the Expos held every 5 years to be 'World' Expos). In fact, it normally requires an emerging or new city of a transformative nature to inspire the type of attention that Shanghai in 2010 did (or Osaka in 1970 etc).

3. The entire ethos of Dubai is synonymous with what Expo 2020 would be about

Dubai is a global city by its very nature. It is home to over 2 million residents - and growing - from all over the world and from every socio-economic background, representing over 200 nationalities. The city is at once a home to and meeting-ground for people from the the Middle East, Subcontinent, Central Asia, Africa (especially East Africa) and Europe, North America, and Australia. There are even an estimated 180,000 Chinese residents in Dubai.  With the tourist profile of the city, Dubai has in fact become the 8th most visited city in the world (in 2012). It's cultural diversity is on constant display with a burgeoning arts scene (that is driven at the grassroots level), international film festivals, culinary celebrations, and so much more that you might as well just visit Timeout magazine.

4. Dubai inspires the imagination as the Expo event is meant to do

The landmark World Expo (or Great Exhibition) was organized under the auspices of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, all the way back in 1851, in Hyde Park. It was an inspiring event that showcased the burgeoning city of London - the world's city at the time - and the promise of a future driven by technology and industrialization.  In a region too full of dark pessimism and cynicism, Dubai represents optimism and opportunity. And it will represent that even more so in 2020, as the city, albeit far along the way, is only at the beginning of its journey in my view of what it will become. Think about it. Who would have said twenty years ago that the world's tallest building would be built in the (Arabian) Gulf? Who would have said only several years ago after the 9/11 attacks that the world's leading airline would be from an Arab country? Who would have thought that the 3rd largest ports operator in the world, handling over 33 million containers annually, would be from Dubai? Today, when you look at the volatile, unstable, and stagnant Middle East, there is one destination for entrepreneurs and innovators to go to - and that is Dubai.

5. Expo 2020 would drive Dubai and the UAE to improve

Before I even write this sentence, I'm sure several of London's finest are in a huff-and-puff that I have not yet mentioned jailed Islamists or tourists having sex in a taxi Better yet, given the refusal-of-entry for a scholar from LSE this past week, shouldn't I be talking about the closure of the academic environment (I mean I masquerade as an intellectual from time to time as well)? Whether or not I believe in liberal democracy (I do - shock!), is it really a matter of discussion for Expo 2020? Well, in that case, we should reject Izmir's candidacy because of Turkey's campaign against Kurdish militants, Ayutthaya's candidacy because of Thailand's campaign in Malay Pattani, Yekaterinburg's candidacy because of Russia's crackdown on political opposition, and Sao Paulo's candidacy because of Brazil's anti-slum raids. Such nullification would leave no one left to host the event! Now beyond the two issues I mentioned above there are a number of continuing issues of concern in the UAE, allow me to list some of them: labor rights (even though this is improving); integration of stateless residents (i.e. bidoons); and increased confusion around cyber surveillance. Hosting the Expo 2020 would not exacerbate but more than likely shed more light on and ameliorate these challenges. In fact, the event would serve as a target-date for when Dubai and the UAE will be (even more so) on the world stage, and that attention would drive improvements on areas of concern.

There are more reasons than the five I've listed here on why Dubai should be the host for Expo 2020, but I like the number 5 (it's the former consultant in me - I almost went with three). Whether you live here or plan to visit, I look forward to seeing you in Dubai in 2020! Until then:



4 comments:

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  2. I give you one reason of why should not be on the expo. human rights does not existe,
    , salaries are going down, Indians are talking over, Europeans are leaving Dubai. the expo in Dubai would be like expo in Mumbai , just my openion

    ReplyDelete
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