Dubai – a different future?

Dave Reeder, Editorial Director, CPI

Before I finally leave Dubai, a place I’ve worked in for 20 years and called home for the last ten, I have two real wishes.

(Well, make that three if we count making arrogant, self-centred Western expats treat anyone in a service capacity with basic kindness, politeness and -yes, even this – respect.)

Real wish number one aligns nicely with Dubai’s desire to be a global figurehead, an inspiring hub that attracts the brightest and the best, together with a very public declaration that our petrochemical age is coming rapidly to a close.

The idea is simple: Dubai Sustainability City. Build on the successful models of Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City, it would offer free zone status to companies worldwide researching in, manufacturing or marketing solutions that do not rely on carbon derivatives. That might be new kinds of transport, better paper manufacturing, new recycling techniques – the beauty of such a zone is that the windows are thrown open and new ideas burst forth.

Look at DIC – criticised for a number of years by some as an excercise in real estate, it has now after barely a decade attracted the regional headquarters of virtually every ICT company of note – notable exceptions remain Apple and Alcatel-Lucent. Equally, it has fostered an entire eco-system of new niche companies, offering everything from consultancy to software development. On the Silicon Valley model, it has acted as a way for ideas and people to interact, creating synergies for new solutions or new companies. And, with potential continuing unrest in both Egypt and Jordan, it has the potential to truly outclass any other regional ICT centre.

Not bad for a real estate project!

Imagine the same synergies, the same opportunities for companies in the sustainability sector. Imagine the manufacturing possibilities – a sector criminally absent from most regional economies.

All it takes is the political vision and a kickstart fund. With major economic troubles ahead for California, what better place for innovators and entrepreneurs to set up shop than a potential Dubai Sustainability City?

My second dream is even simpler: let Dubai become the first major city in the world to offer free, seamless, broadband Wi-Fi anywhere within its borders. Technically, it’s not an issue – unless we might want to throttle certain high-download users and prioritise traffic from – perhaps paying – businesses.

But think of the impact on us all. Workers could move seamlessly between home, work, restaurants and so on, with increased productivity. Students could study more easily. Non-working women could become empowered.

Sure, they’d be an impact on the revenues of Etisalat and du, but the benefits to Dubai as a whole would outweigh the costs. Once again, a global beacon, a shining example of technology in action, a real knowledge economy.

Will these things happen? Or even should they? I look forward to your comments…

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