DUBAI – From funding sustainable building projects, using green bonds, to eliminating cars, United Nations World Cities Day (31 October) at Expo 2020 Dubai, in collaboration with UN Habitat and The Executive Council of Dubai, has spotlighted existing and future solutions to create cities that are inclusive, sustainable and people love to live in.

Under the theme “Climate Resilient Cities”, World Cities Day also provided an opportunity to promote resilience and climate agendas. It forms part of Urban & Rural Development Week (31 October–6 November), the third of 10 Theme Weeks taking place throughout Expo as part of the Programme for People and Planet. 

Sameera Alrais, Senior Director of Policy and Strategy, Sustainable Development, The Executive Council of Dubai, said: “Dubai has constantly prioritised the climate agenda, having successfully established the City Resilience Hub. Its work in the field was recently recognised by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), which awarded Dubai the status of Role Model City under the Making Cities Resilient Campaign. The emirate is also one of the steering committee members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which includes 96 global cities joining hands in climate action.”

Some of the solutions proposed included:

1. Using technology to ensure fresh, clean water availability everywhere

During his introductory virtual welcome speech to Cocreating Future, held at the Netherlands Pavilion at Expo 2020, Ap Verheggenartist and co-owner of SunGlacier Technologies, revealed he was inspired to create a glacier in the desert after seeing the effects of climate change first-hand while working at the North Pole.

Verheggen said: “We have designed a highly-efficient technology that produces volumes of clean water from the air, almost anywhere in the world. We condense water vapour in cold falling water: ‘the growing waterfall’ principle. The volume of the waterdrops grows, as the water falls down. With help from the [Dutch] Ministry of Defence, we are producing smaller units that produce 20 to 30 litres of water a day. At the Netherlands Pavilion, we built an installation that produces around 1,200 litres of water a day from the desert air – even in temperatures of 50C. This technology can really contribute to solving the water shortages around the world. There has been a lot of interest, including from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for using this technology.”

2. Championing Green Bonds and collaborations to scale up sustainability and biodiversity projects

During the discussion on Better City, Better Life – Examining existing and future solutions for climate resilient cities,  Magnus Agerström, Managing Director of Cleantech Scandinavia, noted the high number of impact innovations focused on creating a sustainable, climate-neutral city coming from Nordic countries that are being implemented with funding from governments, but lack upscaling.

Agerström has, however, spotted a funding model that is working successfully in Barcelona: “The Barcelona City Council has set up a fund to put solar panels on roofs. It’s a big project, funded with millions [of Euros] and they have matched that with funding from investors. They approach roof owners and say, ‘We want to put solar panels on roofs. We will do it for free and will get the energy and you will get the energy for a number of years for free, as well. The only thing we require is that we will have the surplus [energy] so we can pay back our investors and after a certain amount of time you will have your roof back.’ That’s an example of a really quick way to scale things up.”

Tjeerd Haccou, Founding Partner, Space & Matter, revealed the importance of decentralised upscaling to support smaller initiatives capable of a wide impact so that “there is not one big fund that does everything, everywhere but there are all these little initiatives that achieve little things all over the place. That is also a way to scale up innovation. The important thing is that you need to get people together. That is the kind of tooling we are building with online platforms to get people with shared values, shared ambitions, shared dreams together, and then see how we can help to get them in realising those things.”

3. Using analytic solutions to create more seamless, safe, efficient and sustainable cities

During the panel talk on What integration and deployment conditions need to be in place to stimulate resilient and adaptive citiesDavid Gourlay, Director, Architecture, Expo 2020 revealed how analytics are key to the future of smart cities.

Gourlay said, “The analytics hardware is available now and can be transferred into a smart city, where you analyse cars, people, bikes, e-scooters etc. And you know up-to-the-minute exactly how your city is working and how to change it for the future. This will be incorporated into the smart aspect of [the legacy city of Expo 2020] District 2020. It goes down to the level of smart traffic lights, mobility, smart parking to reduce the number of car spaces, encouraging car sharing and smart monitoring of buildings.”

4. Creating human-centric cities so cars are not needed

At the World Cities Flagship event, Nadimeh Mehra, Vice President, District 2020, revealed how District 2020, which will repurpose more than 80 per cent of Expo’s infrastructure, will be a truly mixed-use development that will drive the sustainability agenda in the UAE.

Mehra said: “We want to make sure that the individuals living in, and interacting with, the space are happy, active and are engaged with the community. You can work next to where you live and get to anywhere you need to quickly. The parks and green spaces are 45,000 sqm; we already have a 5 km jogging path and a 10 km cycling path. We are planning to build a 4 km autonomous vehicle transit system for our micromobility and we have a metro that stops right here. You can get out of the metro and get on the autonomous vehicle transit system that will be able to loop you throughout the entire community.”

Experts at Morocco’s Urban & Rural Development Plans: How digital innovations & AI can enhance smart mobility also agreed that a human-centric approach is crucial to mobility solutions. Maha Gmira, Professor at EIDIA School, Euromed University of Fes (UEMF), said: “If you want to think about well-being and social welfare, then any AI system should first answer the question, ‘How can I optimise? How can I make the citizen’s life better?’ And that’s probably even more true for mobility than other sectors.”

5. Integrating accessibility to optimise residents’ wellbeing

The well-being and happiness of a city’s citizens were pinpointed as critical focal points from all participants of the World Majlis, called How to create the perfect city, which was held at the Australia Pavilion. 

James Maughan, Director, Dubai Business Associates summed it up: “The perfect city is one where you can access your work very quickly, where you can do a lot of sport and that is family-friendly – if it’s family-friendly, everyone wants to be there.”

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