How to build a Smart City: what we learned from Smart Dubai Office

A little less technology, a little bit more individual happiness–that’s what Smart Dubai’s Director General taught us while in the Dutch capital last week.

This month experts have descended on Amsterdam to share knowledge on best Smart City practices. Traditional one-way communication formats gave way to more networking and live interaction. Attendees were encouraged to speak their mind in roundtable talks (more than 20 to choose from) and take part in the “college tours” with the key-note speakers. Setting up a Smart City is an art of its own, and those willing to learn the trade could join one of the “smart bootcamps”—the three-hour-long live sessions with a variety of industry actors, where real-life cases would be studied and discussed. Not to mention Smart Excursions to existing projects in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, something that became a signature feature of the event.

Foreign key-note speakers gave the event an international edge. Dr. Aisha bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai Office, shared her city’s ambitious goals in ranking first among the Middle Eastern counterparts. Dubai aims to become the first true Smart City of the region. Given the city’s wealth and technological prowess, this goal is not surprising. But what about the means to get there? The official theory of the Smart Dubai Office posits that the path to becoming a Smart City is through ensuring the individual happiness of the citizen. In May, His Highness Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has adopted the Happiness Agenda, a “science-based approach to measuring and impacting people’s happiness”. According to the press release, “by leveraging the latest in technology innovation and customer experience design, together with a culturally-aligned science-based approach to impacting people’s happiness, Smart Dubai is uniting two powerful forces for city transformation today, towards making Dubai the happiest city on earth”. Furthermore, the authority introduced the Happiness Meter for the private sector, which enables the city to measure how satisfied citizens feel after dealing with particular services throughout the city. Thus, technology is only present to such an extent that would be necessary to enable human happiness.

Not too unconventional if you remember the founding principles of Masdar City, lying in just 120 km from Dubai. Although seemingly the ode and monument to technology, Masdar borrowed heavily from the know-how of ancient architects of the region. Steve Severance, Head of Program Management and Investments at Masdar City, earlier said in an interview to NRG Magazine that, before all the fancy technological advancements, it was pure architectural skill and knowledge that made ancient Middle Eastern cities livable and prosperous. After all, cities in UAE might be just returning to the basics, shedding excessive technology along the way.

Photo: College Tour panel. Left to right: Gerald Naber, Chris Mooiweer, Jeremy Leggett, Joost Brinkman, Aisha bin Bishr, Hazem Galal. © Euroforum

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How to build a Smart City: what we learned from Smart Dubai Office