District 2020 seeks to become global benchmark

27 September 2021
The human-centric legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai is prioritising flexibility, sustainability and wellbeing for people and businesses

This expo package also includes:

> Dubai’s platform for global change
> Expo 2020 Dubai’s Programme for People and Planet
Expo 2020 solutions encourage better tomorrow
> Read the September 2021 MEED Business Review

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The disruption of the past year has led many cities and businesses to take action to accommodate the changing needs of their residents and talent.

As workers were forced into remote work, key changes began to manifest at the heart of working culture and “new normal” practices.

While businesses assess how they can evolve to be more people and community friendly, they are also considering employees’ immediate and long-term needs when structuring their organisation and its surrounding amenities.

Governments and urban planners are setting this precedent by making urban spaces more accommodating, socially cohesive, and welcoming of individuals looking to be flexible and blend virtual and physical connections.

By employing hybrid working models, cognisant technologies and smart logistics within their complement of offerings, cities are irrepressibly moving towards being increasingly people-focused.

The evolution of the Expo 2020 site, District 2020, is designed to respond to the future needs of businesses and workers – as a people-first, purpose-driven community that will transition and repurpose physical and virtual infrastructure from the World Expo.

Designed to evolve

Following the expo’s conclusion in March 2022, the sprawling site will transition into District 2020 in phases over a short period. This will be achieved thanks to the adaptability and resilience incorporated in its design. 

Eighty per cent of the assets and infrastructure built for Expo 2020 will be retained and repurposed into an integrated multi-purpose community in District 2020. The development will then continue to grow in phases to address the changing needs of the market and advances in key growth sectors, eventually accommodating a population of 145,000 at full capacity.

“According to the United Nations, 68 per cent of the world’s population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050,” says Nadimeh Mehra, vice-president of District 2020.

“Beyond providing essential services such as healthcare, education, mobility and smart logistics, there remains the vital question of how these urban spaces and the businesses within them can constantly meet the social and professional demands of a growing population with ever-changing expectations.

“Therefore, a clear priority of District 2020 is to create people-first working environments that not only augment the flexibility, productivity and innovation of the workforce, but more importantly, actively contribute to its happiness and wellbeing levels within them.”

According to Mehra, adaptability and people-centric approaches are two fundamental ingredients for achieving this.

“Just as industries change and businesses adapt their models in response, the working environment must constantly evolve to support such changes,” she says. “And, as we know from our partnerships with industry-leading brands and disruptive startups, preserving the happiness of employees is now more important than ever. In fact, a study co-led by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and British multinational telecoms firm BT has found that employees are 13 per cent more productive when they are happy.”

Eighty per cent of the assets and infrastructure built for Expo 2020 will be retained and repurposed into an integrated multi-purpose community in District 2020

Ahmed al-Khatib, chief development and delivery officer at Expo 2020 Dubai, explains that these same ingredients underpin District 2020. The aim is to create a live-work community and innovation-focused ecosystem that will accelerate future technologies and key sectors such as smart logistics and industry 4.0.

“District 2020 has been deliberately designed to reimagine the future of smart and sustainable urban spaces,” he says.

“We are curating an integrated and multi-stakeholder environment that achieves this through campus-style work environments, innovation labs, R&D centres, learning institutions and outdoor spaces that combine the best of the physical and virtual.”

Infused within the urban experience will be 45,000 square metres of green spaces, including parks and community areas, alongside 10 kilometres of bicycle tracks and 5km of jogging tracks. These spaces will give residents the freedom to explore the city as a gym and new opportunities to socialise.

Underpinned by technology

During the pandemic, virtual collaboration and communication tools have been the lifeblood of many businesses’ successful remote working strategies.

The question now is: How will cities continue to support the growing digital demands of their citizens as hybrid working looks set to stay?

“District 2020 will support the future working needs of its community through an underlying ICT network consisting of a highly connected and resilient digital infrastructure, including extensive 5G and wi-fi coverage,” says Mehra.

“We are inheriting one of the most well-connected smart and technologically advanced sites, and our people-first, future city approach seeks to leverage technology to support businesses and people to work better, smarter, faster and live more sustainably.”

But there is more to it than just being connected. District 2020’s digital infrastructure complements the physical space.

“The widespread adoption of remote working has cost employees valuable opportunities for face-to-face or more sociable interactions,” explains Mehra.

“As vaccination rates rise, individuals can look forward to having more meaningful and productive in-person interactions that spur new and innovative ideas, through District 2020’s plentiful social spaces.”

Focused on wellbeing

How businesses operate in future is critical in determining the wellbeing of workers and the health of companies. This is also closely linked to how cities will cope with post-pandemic needs to provide better services to their citizens.

“Wellbeing is very much in the spotlight right now and will likely continue to be a priority for the indefinite future,” says Mehra. “This was factored into our plans and is a big part of why we’re creating a people-centric future city blueprint and global benchmark with District 2020’s physical and digital infrastructure.”

A commitment to environment, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors is also an important value driver for organisations determined to lead with purpose through sustainability and social impact.

This is likely to grow in importance. Organisations will scrutinise where to locate offices and headquarters in correlation to how their surrounding community allows them to meet their ESG goals.

We are inheriting one of the most well-connected smart and technologically advanced sites, and our people-first, future city approach seeks to leverage technology to support businesses and people to work better, smarter, faster and live more sustainably
Nadimeh Mehra, vice-president, District 2020

The increased focus on ESG factors has also been motivated by employees who now demand opportunities to engage in purpose-driven work — just as they are much more aware of the environment they work in and their wellbeing.

German-based technology corporation Siemens will relocate its global headquarters for airports, cargo and ports logistics to District 2020. It will focus on ensuring future employee wellbeing in a hybrid workplace and taking their ESG commitment to the next level. 

“In a world where hybrid work is here to stay, we need to balance the needs and expectations of our employees,” says Franco Atassi, CEO of Siemens Smart Infrastructure in the Middle East. “Our partnership with District 2020 is underscored by a shared sense that technology must serve a purpose – that our solutions must help people and the environment.”

Atassi notes that workplace technology will play an even more pivotal role in making work environments future-ready while creating an amazing employee experience through intelligent technology and smart sensors. However, employees’ physical environment and mental wellbeing are as important as ever, he adds.

“Freedom, flexibility and personalisation of how, when and where we work are what’s needed to navigate the complexities of modern employee wellbeing,” he says. “This is where cities of the future, such as District 2020, will stand apart.”

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