How Dubai is becoming a smart city

Dubai Smart City

Dubai is becoming a smart city with an ambitious goal of making its people the happiest on earth.

Dubai has launched various initiatives whilst integrating technologies such as Information Communication Technologies [ICT] and the Internet of Things [IoT] into its hard and soft infrastructures. These initiatives and technologies will transform its networks and services into a more efficient, intelligent and collaborative ecosystem.

In 2013, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the launch of the Dubai Smart City project. The key objective of this initiative is to transform Dubai into one of the world’s smartest city.

The backbone to this strategy is based on the “Three Ps” [Public, Private, Partnerships]. This will promote a collaborative approach between private and public entities. The key benefit of this collaborative approach is that it will expedite the transformation of the city into a smart destination, whilst creating a greener circular economy.

To help understand how Dubai is implementing a smart city strategy, we need to first answer two key questions: why is Dubai becoming a smart city? and what is a smart city?

Why is Dubai becoming a smart city?

Over the last century, Dubai has been through an extraordinary and visionary transformation. The city has evolved from a 10,000 desert-dwelling population in the early 1900, into one of today’s most cosmopolitan cities, with a population of over 2.7 million people.

A fast-growing urban population, coupled with climate change, has created significant challenges on how Dubai can improve the quality of the lives for its citizens, whilst also reducing their impact on the environment. In the last few decades, UAE has consistently ranked as having one of the highest annual carbon dioxide emissions per capita. Thus Dubai becoming a sustainable and smart city is no longer a choice, it has become a necessity. This is why Dubai has an ambitious plan to become one of the most sustainable and smartest cities in the world.

UAE is also expecting to welcome 45 million people by 2021, of which 31 million will be international tourists. This has also contributed to the acceleration of plans for a new generation of smart projects, making the city a testbed for innovative designers to push the boundaries within the built environment. In addition to the Expo 2020, other plans include a new ultra-fast Hyperloop train that will travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in 12 minutes reaching a top speed of 750 mph, as well as plans for the world’s greenest eco resort.

Examples of Dubai Projects in 2020


Expo 2020


Hyperloop Dubai


Oasis Eco Resort

For a city that ranked 65th in the “IESE Cities in Motion Index 2016” for world smartest cities, Dubai has much work ahead to become a smart city. The Dubai Smart City project is a key initiative to achieving this goal, and interlinked to the theme of the upcoming World Expo. The city is currently preparing for Expo 2020, having won the bid in 2013 with the theme of “connecting minds, creating the future”. Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity were some of the sub-themes to their bid. Dubai will be the first city in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia regions to host the World Expo. With 2020 approaching, the race for Dubai to become one of the smartest cities is on. Before we look into Dubai’s Smart City initiatives, let’s first understand what make a smart city.

What is a smart city?

A smart city is a destination where hard and soft infrastructures are integrated with technology and securely connected together. The objective is to make our networks and services more efficient and intelligent, whilst allowing collaboration between the public and private sectors. It’s about creating a digitally collaborative ecosystem that will also improve the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the city; thus ultimately improving peoples’ quality of life and protecting the environment. New York City is a good example of such a smart city and has been ranked as the smartest city in the world in the “IESE Cities in Motion Index 2016”. The following graphical analysis shows the smartness of New York vs Dubai, against 10 key dimensions measured by the IESE Cities in Motion Index. The info graph shows at a glance how far Dubai is significantly behind New York as a smart city, and the areas required for improvement.

New York Smart City vs Dubai Smart City

IESE smart city dimensions

graphical analysis of New York vs Dubai

 Data source: “IESE Cities in Motion Index 2016”.

But what makes New York the smartest city in the world? Can Dubai learn from some of its initiatives?

What Dubai can learn from New York City, the smartest city in the world!

We recently created a post which provides an outline of the various initiatives New York City is delivering as part of its smart city plan. You can read more about it here: []

What we learned from the study is that the successes of New York’s smart city initiatives are as a result of the commitment, coordination and partnerships between various departments as well as private and public entities. Its “collective collaboration” and “people-centred”approach to creating a smart city is another key reason for its success. Dubai is learning from NYC’s strategies, which is why in 2016 Dubai launched the future accelerator programme. The initiative invites innovative companies to join forces with government departments, with the objective of finding solutions to challenges of the 21st century; “The aim of the program is to provide a dynamic environment where companies and entities can explore new opportunities to deliver transformative technologies and services” [source: Dubai Future Accelerators ].

Dubai also developed a set of seven smart strategies to aid it’s pursuit of becoming the smartest city. The seven strategies are: Smart Economy, Smart Living, Smart Mobility, Smart Governance, Smart Environment, Smart People and Smart ICT infrastructure. These strategies will be delivered through its smart city initiatives which are outlined below.

Dubai Smart City Initiatives

Happiness metre

Happiness metre

Dubai aims to become the “happiest city on earth “, a directive initiated by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The strategy is to implement Happiness Metres on government websites and apps as well as electronic devices installed at various government entities. The Happiness Metre is the first such initiative in the world that interactively measures people’s happiness on a daily basis. All the metres will be connected to a central network to allow the monitoring of services and to ensure that the least satisfied areas are improved. The aim is to improve the happiness of residents, workers and visitors by the services provided to them. In 2016, the United Arab Emirates ranked 23rd globally in the United Nations’ “World Happiness Report”.

Smart District Guidelines

Smart District Guidelines

Dubai has created the “Smart District Guidelines” to educate various stakeholders within the built environment, such as Developers & Architects, to embrace smart city initiatives from early stages of project development. This will give ownership of proposals to each district and ensure that smart initiatives are unique to each districts’ needs.

Smart Dubai Index

Smart Dubai Index

In Collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union and the Dubai Statistic Centre, a unique smart city “Key Performance Indicators” [KPIs] was developed. The aim is to measure and evaluate how facilities and services are performing. The Smart Dubai Index will help the various government entities to measure their individual progress towards their smart city goals.

Dubai Data

Dubai Data

The “Dubai Data Initiative” was launched to enhance the sharing of information [Data] between government departments, city planners, tourists, residents and business owners. The objective is to openly share data created by either government or private sectors, in the pursuit of improving quality of life. When the Dubai Data Initiative was launched it was touted as “the world’s most ambitious and comprehensive data initiative to date”.

Smart Dubai Platform

Smart Dubai Platform

Government entities, private sectors, residents and tourists will all benefit from real-time analytics tools provided by the “Smart Dubai Platform”. Each person requires one username that can for residents be linked to their Emirates ID, which will permit them to access hundreds of city services from the Smart Dubai Platform. The platform can be used to access and evaluate a variety of data tailored to different users. For example, a resident can review their household energy consumption, or a tourist can find the most efficient public transport information, or a parent can obtain important medical information for their child etc.

Dubai Blockchain

Dubai Blockchain

Dubai Blockchain initiative is aiming to be “the simplest, safest, most secure way to exchange information”. The aim of the initiative is to digitize the exchange of information, meaning that over 100 million government documents that are generated every year in Dubai could potentially become digital. It is thought that this initiative will save up to 144 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, as well as redistributing up to 25.1 million hours of economic productivity elsewhere and a total saving of 5.5 billion Dirhams annually.

Dubai should learn from the next generation of smart cities

The next generation of smart cities will provide an affordable and accessible Internet infrastructure to all citizens. This includes both wired and wireless networks. Any “thing” that has the ability of transferring data over a network could essentially become part of the Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, the possibilities are endless with IoTs. Integrating technology that can transfer data into any object, machine, or even a living thing can bring many benefits to our lifestyles. For example, imagine if our transport infrastructure such as traffic lights, roads, parking structures, bridges and vehicles were all embedded with intelligent transportation systems, allowing them to communicate with each other. Our transport infrastructure would become much safer and more efficient.

IoTs for sustainability

Oasis Eco Resort

Oasis Eco Resort will be embedded with sensors to provide real-time data.

IoTs can also significantly improve the sustainability of buildings. For example, indoor lighting and temperature can automatically be adjusted based on various variables. These variables include the number of occupants in a room, the time of day as well as exterior weather and light conditions. Embedding sensors in buildings to detect motion, temperature, noise, moisture, fire, smoke, etc. will provide real-time data and help improve operational efficiency, safety and security. Once these sensors are connected to the IoTs, buildings can communicate real-time data to various departments within the city. For example, waste should only be collected upon receiving automatic notification that they are full. Real-time user data should be analysed to provide an estimate of the day and time for waste to be collected. This will maximise efficiency and ensure that services are available exactly when they are needed.

The possibilities of integrating sensors into many other “things” are endless. This information can be used by city officials or by applications to provide more efficient and improved services. Thus the IoTs will help reduce errors, increase efficiency, and ensure that services are delivered in real-time. The key challenge however, is using IoTs to make our cities resilient.

Smart cities for resilience

Water Boulevards

The next generation of smart cities should have the capacity to analyse the exact amount of resources and services that is being consumed in real-time. This means understanding the exact amount of water, energy or waste that is being consumed in each part of the city, as well as understanding where key services, such as emergency and security are most required. This allows for better management and efficient use of resources and services. This analytic data will also ensure that the city is aware of the amount of resources and services that are needed for the various parts of the city to function to the same capacity during any event. This data will help the city to prepare itself in becoming a resilient city. Ultimately, transforming our cities into smart destinations is an important step for creating resilient cities.

Final thoughts

As urbanisation is expected to keep growing significantly for the remainder of this century, cities around the world must learn from some of the initiatives launched by the smartest cities. One of the key priority initiatives should be integrating multiple Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and the Internet of Things (IoT) within their built environments. The integration of ICT and IoT will undoubtedly transform Dubai into a smart city; to better manage and increase the efficiency of its services and networks in real-time. These include but are not limited to mobility, healthcare, education, security, waste, utilities, e-government and community services.

These initiatives are usually initiated from the perspective of central decision-makers; however the key to the success of the Dubai Smart City project will depend on how well the people who live in the city are engaged in the process. It is usually the local residents who tend to have the best knowledge of the needs and demands of their local areas. This bottom-up approach will ensure that there is a strong understanding of what’s really happening on the ground; as each community will most likely have different needs. It will also ensure that all initiatives are “people-centred”, which is the common theme shared by the smartest cities in the world. Ultimately, a bottom-up investment will create more green jobs & will most likely result in a new way of thinking about smart cities. Thus the success of Dubai Smart City will depend less on the implementation of technologies and more on the engagement of the people who live in them; a collaborative collective innovation.

About the author

Baharash Bagherian

Baharash Bagherian is a Designer working holistically at all scales, designing for a higher quality of life whilst also protecting the environment. He believes that great Architecture is more than buildings: “It’s about creating resilient destinations that make people feel healthy to live in, inspired to work in and want to visit.”

In his work, each project is driven by a process of investigation and experimentation. The outcomes of these studies form the basis of the design. He strives to develop innovative and creative solutions that make a positive contribution to our current and future generations.

His award-winning design studio, Baharash Architecture, have worked on projects in various scales, from urban scale; such as master plans, landscape design and buildings, to smaller scale; such as interiors, furniture and products. Recent projects include the Oasis Eco Resort in Liwa and phase 2 of Dubai Sustainable City.

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