Dubai 2040: how Urban Master Plan will transform the lives of residents

The ambitious vision is key to the emirate's evolution into a mature city

The Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, an outline of how the emirate will be developed over the next 20 years, envisages large-scale changes to the landscape and skyline.

The wide-ranging vision aims to provide the best quality of life for Dubai's residents and pave the way for the next major residential and economic developments in the city.

It is the seventh plan of its kind to be implemented in the emirate since 1960.

The scheme divides the city into five key areas of development, each focused on building on Dubai's strengths.

Deira and Bur Dubai remain the beating heart of tradition, while Downtown Dubai and Business Bay act as the emirate's financial hub.

Dubai Marina and JBR are at the forefront of tourism and entertainment and Expo 2020 is the international gateway for exhibitions and events, with Dubai Silicon Oasis a knowledge and innovation centre.

The National talked to experts to assess some of the ways the Dubai 2040 plan will shape the future of the city.

Offering a glimpse of ‘what’s next’

As master plans go, it's easy to understand and people can relate to it, according to Gurminder Singh Sagoo, client director at professional services company WSP in the Middle East, who has seen many such projects in his long career as an urban planner.

“If you Google the 2040 master plan today, what you will see is social media really picking up on it and talking about it. If you look at the kind of people talking about it, it's not urban planners like myself, or engineering consultants or architects."

"It's everyday people, and that's what really impactful about the master plan,” Mr Sagoo said.

He said it will further encourage what the people of Dubai are used to – growth.

“It gives them the 'what next' and helps them visualise a thriving economy and that's looking to diversify and that gives consumer confidence,” he said.

Plan will ‘unlock’ the potential of Bur Dubai and Deira

Once the centre of Dubai, the plan envisages a regeneration of ‘older’ areas like Bur Dubai and Deira and repopulating them with Emirati families in locations where local families lived previously.

It’s a plan that will ‘unlock’ new areas of the city – something that has happened in maturing cities all over the world.

Mr Sagoo cites the evolution of cities like London, Melbourne and New York, and how certain areas have been regenerated with new development and suddenly become fashionable and great places to live.

“The opportunity we have in Dubai is to skip the learning curve, so to speak, and not see areas become deprived, but take the opportunity to see those areas as new areas.

He said it's about striking a balance and retaining and celebrating Emirati cultural heritage, and also embedding it within the wider fabric of the city.

Projected population growth will help the economy

The plan sets out that the emirate’s population will surge from 3.3 million to 5.8 million in the next 20 years. While the overall plan addresses dealing with this increase, economists have said the growth will help spur the economy, as the city emerges from the pandemic.

“The angle of the plan which is most relevant for the macroeconomic outlook pertains to the demographic projections, in our view,” said Carla Slim, economist for the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan at Standard Chartered Bank.

“This comes at a time where expat population is in focus following the dual crisis of Covid-19 and lower oil prices last year, which led to private sector job cuts. Unsupportive demographics could potentially delay the economic recovery in 2021.

“It appears, however, that Dubai’s expatriate population actually grew by 1.5 per cent in 2020, albeit at a slower pace than the 5.3 per cent growth registered in 2019.”

Daniel Richards, senior Mena economist, ‎Emirates NBD, said the other key takeaway was the "focus on making the city increasingly easy to live in.

“Dubai already scores highly on indices of international cities by liveability and, if successfully implemented, these measures will ensure it remains so,” he said.

“As such, people will continue to be attracted to come and work in the new industries being developed here, making the ambitious population growth targets entirely achievable.”

New modes of transport

The "people-led" plan aims to improve interconnectivity by ensuring 55 per cent of the population will live within 800 metres of a main public transport station.

The master plan aims to encourage mass transit use, walking, cycling and the use of flexible means of transportation.

Hilal Halaoui, a partner with management consultants Strategy& and leader of the public sector practice in the Middle East, said the initiative will see significant changes in transport in the coming years, with technology set to take centre stage.

“If you look at research around the world, it says that 50 per cent of people who are born today are unlikely to drive a car in the future,” said Mr Halaoui.

“If you look at the plan and what they're testing already in Dubai, they want to be at the forefront when it comes to transportation. For people, it means more convenience in terms of moving from point A to point B, but also more self-sufficiency within these communities.”

Mr Sagoo said there’s an opportunity in going beyond linking people to stations, but also to create spaces where public stations interface with the wider public realm so they are seamless.

“We have the opportunity to create iconic urban places from these transport nodes – places where work is at one node and home is at the other,” he said.

Future is green and healthy

The plan sets out to improve the quality of life, with the doubling of green and leisure areas, in addition to public parks, to create more areas where people can exercise.

Mr Halaoui said there has been a clear strategy from authorities in Dubai to focus on the people in the city.

“While there was a lot of work being done on buildings and megaprojects, the belief in the individual comes very strong in the plan,” he said.

“There's a clear focus on health and lifestyle. The increase in green spaces and cycling lanes is all to create a lifestyle in Dubai that focuses on the individual.”

Mr Sagoo said it’s part of Dubai’s growth as a city, in terms of what it offers its residents, and it’s led by the population.

“It would be interesting to see how many people in Dubai do a Google search for wadi walks and campsites today. I believe it will be 100 per cent higher than last year, which would have been 100 per cent higher than the year before,” he said.

“I think the demographics of our population is changing, becoming more mature.

"The expat population don't actually behave and feel like expats – this is their home, and because of that they want to more than just sit by a swimming pool.

"You just have to go out in the winter months and see that the hills are awash with ramblers and cyclists and runners," Mr Sagoo said.

“We've got more campsite facilities than we've ever had before and that shows us that Dubai, as is place, is changing."