UNESCO crowns Dubai as first Creative City of Design in the Middle East

The UNESCO announcement places Dubai within the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which has 180 members from 72 countries.
Sunday 24/06/2018
More than buildings. The skyline of Dubai with the Burj al-Arab (R) in the foreground and Burj Khalifa (L) in the background.        (AFP)
More than buildings. The skyline of Dubai with the Burj al-Arab (R) in the foreground and Burj Khalifa (L) in the background. (AFP)

DUBAI - Dubai has been selected the first city in the Middle East and 24th in the world to be a part of the UNESCO Creative City of Design.

Activities across the emirate will focus on design, beginning with the opening of the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI) in September, the first of its kind in the United Arab Emirates.

“It came to be part of this announcement and plan,” DIDI President Mohammad Abdullah said. “If you talk about culture, transport, health and education, education is one important pillar [involved] in the work of the city towards innovation and design. Today, you’re talking about established government and private entities that are taking that whole creativity thinking [to the next level].”

Students out of high school will have design thinking instilled in them in terms of how to identify problems and come up with solutions.

“In four years, the first batch will graduate and they will find room within that concept that the city is a target area,” Abdullah said. “The way we look at it is that design involves all aspects of life. If you have traffic problems related to transport, students can think of a design and come up with a solution, to better improve society as a whole.”

The UNESCO announcement places Dubai within the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which has 180 members from 72 countries covering arts and crafts, design, film, literature and media arts. The network is aimed at promoting cooperation among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.

“Design is beyond the product, rather it is the framework by which problems are solved,” said Dawood al-Hajiri, director-general of Dubai Municipality. “It puts people and their needs first to convert trash into energy, improve quality of life, increase sustainability and promote happiness.”

Citizens will be invited to participate in the creative process. “More activities will take place to cement this, going forward,” said Abdulla al-Basti, secretary-general of Dubai Executive Council. “We also expect people from society to come forward with their ideas to contribute.”

The municipality has had a long history with UNESCO to recognise Dubai Creek as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Some sites across the Middle East, including Al Zubarah Archaeological Site in Qatar, the cultural sites of Al Ain in the UAE, such as Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases areas, have achieved that designation.

Saudi Arabia has its share of recognised sites, including Al-Hijr Archaeological Site, also known as Madain Salih, At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah, the Historic Jeddah site — the Gate to Mecca — and the Rock Art of the Hail region. Such sites represent commitment to culture and heritage across the region and the Gulf countries’ vision to position themselves on the global map.

“The announcement of the Creative City of Design in the Middle East for Dubai marks the culmination of the vision of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, UAE vice-president and prime minister and ruler of Dubai, who has taken a proactive approach to innovation and creativity in Dubai’s public and private sectors,” said Mattar al-Tayer, director-general and chairman of the board of directors of the Roads and Transport Authority in the country.

“We are keen to adopt and develop the best creative practices, through the introduction of creative touches on the design of road networks, intersections, bridges and tunnels.”

Joining UNESCO’s network allows countries to collaborate further afield and gives regional talent added opportunities.

“We live in a fast-moving world,” said Rowdha Alsayegh, an Emirati artist. “It’s been said that creativity is the only factor that will keep us surviving in the future as all else is being replaced by robots. Creativity has always been an important factor of survival.”

“I proudly stand here today to see the UAE appreciate art in all its factors and watch it grow,” Alsayegh said. “I’m thankful for this opportunity as the doors I am going to open from now on are international doors [that will allow] my art to spread worldwide, to represent what a true Emirati stands for. I witnessed a new era in the art field, which makes us realise how much is actually possible.”

Initiatives were unveiled to achieve the objectives of UNESCO’s Innovative Design Cities Network, including the Dubai Creative City of Design Council, the Dubai National Design Centre, the Innovation for Public Service Transformation and the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, as well as the Dubai Design and Innovation Festival.