‘Dubai: Between Smartness and Identity’ by Jameel Karaki, MSc student

(c) Paolo Margarl via Flickr

(c) Paolo Margarl via Flickr

From a small undeveloped region on the shores of the Arabian Gulf in 1950, Dubai became a fast-growing modern city, a popular destination for tourism and a major economic centre. After years of implementing development plans and policies, Dubai aims to become a ‘Smart City’ ahead of hosting of the 2020 World Expo.

Consequently in April 2013, the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture) announced the transfer of fifteen Dubai heritage and archaeological sites from state supervision to Dubai Culture. On the basis of a new legal framework for the management of historic sites in 2008, Dubai Culture will be responsible for several museums, traditional villages and a number of artifacts which date back to 3000 BCE. These sites in the emirate include the Dubai Museum, Sheikh Saeed’s House, Hatta Heritage Village, Heritage Village and Diving Village, Majlis Ghorfat Umm Al Sheif, Ahmadiah School, Naif Museum, the Jumeirah Archaeological Site, the Sarouk Archaeological Site, sites at Sufouh and Sheikh Obaid’s House.

The new plan also incorporates a process of technological innovation, such as Wi-Fi access in city parks, buses and taxis, and innovative systems to help drivers find parking spots. In addition, systems to connect home solar panels to the electric grid, smart meters for customers to monitor their power and water usage in real time, and a network of charging stations for electric cars will also be implemented. These plans were announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai with government departments in 2014. This large-scale project will be implemented by a collective of private suppliers and public entities the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Dubai Information Depart, Higher Committee for Dubai Smart City, Department of Economic Development, Dubai Police and the Municipality of Dubai. The Dubai Government is the main provider of finance.

Dubai’s recent bid to host the World Expo2020 is expected to add an estimated 4.5 % to GDP growth in the United Arab Emirates, amid forecasts that an extra US$10 billion of private investment will be made by the Gulf Co-operation Council, according to a report by Qatar National Bank (QNB) published in 2013. There are, however, concerns that such development will precipitate the loss of ‘authentic’ Emirati heritage as the city becomes increasingly codified as a place of skyscrapers, garnished with the cement and light of major corporate ‘signature’ buildings.

The city of Dubai itself contains a number of heritage attractions such as Sheikh Saeed Al- Maktoum House (the historic residence of the former ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum); the Al Shindagha neighborhood in the old city centre; the historic Al Bastakiya district; the well-known Al-Ahmadiya School and the ancient fortification Burj Nahar. The Dubai Creek is in the process of being potentially recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as a World Heritage site.

Debate centring on ‘authenticity’ and ‘identity’ forms a key part of the case of the Dubai Heritage Village in an attempt to narrate the architectural and cultural history of Dubai. The sense of heritage that has been reconstructed in the Village, however, is based on a singular historical narrative, which is in direct contradiction to the hybridity of Dubai‘s ethnic and cultural makeup and heritage. According to art historian Hillary Shusterman, the separation of the Heritage Village from the central nucleus of the city mirrors the disconnection between the ‘modern’ international city that Dubai has become and its suggested heritage. As new policy and heritage initiatives emerge, the question remains if Dubai can be successful in sustaining its focus on a ‘smart’ future while maintaining historical sites that attract tourists without jeopardizing its identity?

Jameel is a student on the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development (2013) and currently works as an International Affairs Journalist at Al Jarida Newspaper, Kuwait.


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