Residents will move into apartments at District 2020, the legacy site of Expo 2020 Dubai, by the end of this year.

Speaking to Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview, Sanjive Khosla, senior vice-president at District 2020, said the first set of companies would receive their office space as early as July. The transition process will be carried out in phases over nine months after the world's biggest cultural event ends on March 31.

While 800 residential units, available only for rent, will be handed over starting from December 2022, about 2,300 apartments at the nearby Expo village will be available much earlier.

15-minute city

District 2020 residents will live and work in the UAE's first 15-minute city. Everything they need from offices, parks, groceries, retail shops, restaurants and coffee shops will be accessible by simply cycling, walking or riding e-scooters – accessible in under 15 minutes.

The key is to make living car-free by connecting people via pedestrian walkways, autonomous vehicle routes and public transportation networks.

Khosla calls it a "human-centric" city, which is essentially "a city designed around people, not around buildings or cars". They are designed to fulfil the needs of people who will live and work there.

Through sustainable means of transportation and a fully integrated community, District 2020 will serve as "a wellness-focused zone" that is shaped to encourage a balanced and active lifestyle for an estimated population of 145,000 people, explained Khosla.

The city will house 10km of cycling tracks, 5km of jogging tracks and multi-purpose sports facilities.

Mental wellbeing, Khosla added, has been given a special focus.

Waterfalls, garden in the Sky in your neighbourhood

Residents and employees will enjoy some of the iconic landmarks of Expo 2020, which live on after the mega event, including the exceptional feet-dipping Water Feature and the observation deck Garden in the Sky.

In the evenings, they will get the treat of all — stunning 360 light projections, diverse events and concerts at the Al Wasl Plaza, the jewel of Expo 2020.

Tenants and visitors will also get the chance to indulge in some country pavilions that stay as major cultural attractions, including the UAE, Saudi and India ones.

The Sustainability Pavilion (Terra) will be transformed into a Children and Science Centre, while the Mobility Pavilion (Alif), Vision Pavilion, Mission Possible, and Dubai Exhibition Centre will remain unchanged.

More countries, like Luxembourg, are discussing granting their pavilions to District 2020. "There will be announcements in the next few months," said Khosla.

Ensuring wellbeing

Khosla noted that "combining the elements of sustainability, wellness, fitness with the inspirational and cultural element contribute to the wellbeing of residents."

District 2020 was designed with an objective to utilise 80 per cent of Expo's built environment, but "in reality, we will be re-purposing 90 to 95 per cent of Expo," said Khosla.

Efforts have been made by the government of Dubai to make the site more accessible.

District 2020 will be accessible through a dedicated metro station and three major arterial roads with flyovers purposely built prior to District 2020 occupation.

Summers will be cool, too

The 15-minute city was shaped with the UAE's scorching summer heat in mind.

Khosla explains that the shading areas and greenery, which spans 45,000 square-meter parks and open spaces, cool off the temperature between buildings.

"The buildings [of Expo 2020] were closely constructed next to each other, and with a lot of shading areas and greenery, which makes the temperature as you walk between buildings cooler."

Public transport network of buses and autonomous vehicles will also help tenants, workers, and visitors move around during the heat.

Office spaces to be ready within months

As District 2020 is eyeing companies in tech and innovation, Khosla announced that 15 per cent of commercial office space has already been pre-leased.

The first set of tenants to move in will be businesses whose office spaces will be ready as early as July.

So far, spaces in District 2020 are available for rent, although property buying can an option in the future.

Transforming Expo 2020 into District 2020

Khosla explained that Expo 2020 site will be transformed into the integrated residential community over different phases in a transition process that vary from six to nine months.

The first step will be to remove the items available on site that organise entry to Expo 2020 such as the security scanners and ticketing checkpoints. This process will last a few weeks.

At the same time, work to transform, demobilise or remove the country pavilions will be underway in a process that will take at least six months.

Three of the five tall buildings surrounding Al Wasl Plaza will be transitioned into office spaces within around three months. Work on the thematic districts will then start, lastly followed by residential units, which are set to be ready by end of the year.

The major attractions of the site will remain open to visitors throughout the nine-month reconstruction.

"Certain elements of the site will stay on to be enjoyed by people while this transition is going on. So, there is no official launch date for District 2020 as the site will never close," said Khosla.

A living lab

The legacy of Expo 2020 will continue through the formation of District 2020 as an ideation space that brings together global innovators and entrepreneurs to contribute to the innovation-driven economy.

Khosla said talks are undergoing with potential businesses in the four key sectors of smart mobility, smart logistics, smart cities and industry 4.0. The legacy site will be an innovation lab for businesses specialised in disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, Big Data and Blockchain.

Around 80 start-ups will also be selected as part of Scale2Dubai global entrepreneur programme to collaborate with SMEs, innovation centres, research institutions, government agencies, incubators, accelerators and universities in an innovation-driven ecosystem.

"We want to create an environment that is a living lab, or a place where companies can test their technologies in a real-life environment, instead of closed labs," said Khosla.


Siemens, Siemens Energy, DP World and Terminus Group, a China-based leader in AI and robotics, have signed a lease to be part of the innovation ecosystem.

"We have a proper pipeline of companies we talk to every year, which adds up to an additional 40 per cent of our commercial venture," said Khosla.

Companies will be supported by the 5G-enabled city that provides a seamless connection for up to 300,000 people at once. The legacy site will also act as a new free zone.

UAE's first 15-minute city: What you need to know

Every amenity will be within short walking or cycling distance

45,000sqm parks, communal and open spaces

10km biking paths

5km jogging paths

4km autonomous vehicle route

LEED Gold and Platinum certified buildings

20% energy from rooftop solar panels

52% less water consumed in buildings

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