Expos can change cities. By drawing large numbers of international visitors and inviting countries to showcase the very best of their societies, they introduce new possibilities to the local landscape. And when the party is over, the attendees take what they have learnt back home with them.
This is perhaps aptly summed up in the theme of Dubai Expo 2020: "Connecting minds, creating the future." The mega-event that for the past eight years has been a vision, a blueprint and then a work in progress, is finally reality, ready for the world stage.
Last night, as the opening ceremony got under way, viewers witnessed the scope of what a post-pandemic future could hold.
Over the next 182 days, Dubai Expo 2020 will focus on the sub-themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability. Visitors will no doubt get a glimpse of the kind of world we want to live in, as sustainability becomes a driving force in global development and climate action becomes an increasingly non-negotiable priority.
The Expo site will display what this sustainable future could look like. The actual physical space is larger than 600 football pitches, and a testament to how seriously the UAE, as it reaches its 50th anniversary, takes the ideals the event represents.
As Dr Nawal Al-Hosany, the UAE's representative at the International Renewable Energy Agency, wrote in The National last month: "[Expo] is set to be a manifestation of the words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai: 'The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it and execute it.' "
Those visitors perhaps coming to the UAE for the first time to see the Expo will have an opportunity to also tour the UAE's landmarks, including the famed Burj Khalifa and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the largest places of worship in the world.
Over the next six months, visitors from across the world – and also from within the UAE – will get a chance to marvel at how seamlessly Dubai has been able to bring together a vision of sustainability and technology, harnessing the power of imagination and addressing the needs of the future.
It has been a year of introspection worldwide, as societies ask themselves how best to chart a path through not only the pandemic, but an era of less certainty, greater complexity. In Dubai, the world will come together to have a good time, but also to ponder these issues as one. When it is over, the hope is that people will walk away with greater confidence in the future we can all build together.
More on our Expo 2020 blog