Now that Expo 2020 Dubai is over, will District 2020 leave a positive legacy?

The event ended on March 31 with a display by the UAE Aerobatic Team and performances by Christina Aguilera, Norah Jones and Yo-Yo Ma. But now that the party is over and the guests have made their final departure, will the site become a $7 billion “white elephant” – unwanted space that becomes a burden on the city?

Expo 2020 organizers say they planned for the space’s legacy from the start, with 80% of the infrastructure planned to move to District 2020, a mixed-use urban community, described as a “city human-centric intelligence”.

“It’s a full and complete city,” says Ahmed Al Khatib, director of Expo 2020 site development and delivery. exercise, a shopping center 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 in, there’s a different attraction,” he explains. “The parks, the landscaping, the trees – everything is designed with human needs in mind.”

The idea is for all amenities to be accessible to residents on foot in 15 minutes or less – “Like a traditional old town,” says Dina Storey, director of sustainability operations at Expo 2020.

There will be 10 kilometers of bike paths, 5 km of jogging paths and a 4 km self-driving vehicle transit route. The site will retain 123 of the Expo’s structures and buildings, from the towering wings of the United Arab Emirates Pavilion, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, to the massive glass and steel facade of Al Wasl Plaza.

A total of 260,000 square meters of redeveloped exhibition buildings will provide accommodation and office space for up to 145,000 people.

A green city

Despite being built on a desert site, organizers say the 2020 district will feature 45,000 square meters of green space and parkland filled with local native species, such as drought-tolerant Ghaf trees and moss bushes. jasmine. The buildings are also designed with respect for the environment and each one is equipped with solar panels. The Sustainability Pavilion, designed by British architecture firm Grimshaw, is a centerpiece of the Expo’s green vision.

The pavilion is partially submerged, which keeps it cool, and has a 440-foot-wide steel canopy covered with more than 1,000 solar panels. The building can generate up to 4 gigawatt hours of electricity per year – enough to power around 370 average homes – from the solar panels on the canopy and on the 18 “Energy Trees” around the pavilion.

Read: This Expo pavilion produces its own water and energy

As it transitions to District 2020, it will become the Terra Children and Science Center, a museum and educational facility demonstrating the site’s smart and sustainable capabilities.

According to Storey, District 2020 will also be the region’s first WELL-certified community – a standard that assesses the impact of buildings on health and well-being. She says that to qualify, “there have to be vegan spaces, organic spaces to eat, and it really focuses on the well-being of the people who live here, the animals and the biodiversity of the space itself. “.

“You have to have a plan in place”

With previous World Expos, many sites have become “white elephants,” says Tim van Vrijaldenhoven, independent urban planning expert and author of “Reaching Beyond the Gold: The Impact of Global Events on Urban Development.” In these cases, the space was not needed by the city and therefore was not integrated into a wider urban development. Dubai is different, says Vrijaldenhoven, because it is a rapidly growing city and the site is integrated into an urban master plan.

He adds that it is vital that Dubai moves ahead with the development of District 2020 quickly, before people lose interest. “After the event, at every Expo, the momentum is gone,” he says. “You need to immediately put a transformation plan in place.”

Vrijaldenhoven questions the feasibility of making a city pedestrian-friendly in a place where temperatures often reach 50 degrees Celsius, and adds that sites disconnected from the rest of a city risk becoming “end of line” locations. . “Unless it’s integrated into a network, with a good strategic 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 it’s finally a good answer to how to deal with the Expos legacy and not turn into white elephants,” he says.

The Al Wasl Dome, the centerpiece of Expo 2020 Dubai, will be part of the new District 2020 urban area.
Individuals and businesses will be able to move into the Expo site from October this year and companies such as Siemens and Terminus have already booked their places. The UK and the United Arab Emirates plan to partner to open a hydrogen innovation center on site, with the aim of accelerating decarbonisation in aviation and maritime transport. And the imposing Italy pavilion will transform into a center for the preservation of archaeological artifacts and art recovered from war zones.

“It’s a lot of education, a lot of innovation, a lot of fun too,” says Al Khatib. “In 10 years, I imagine it’s a very busy site.”


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