A City Built for Innovation


By Brennan Murray

During my recent trip to Dubai for a meeting about a new living community project in Saudi Arabia, I took a moment to reflect on what makes Dubai unique.

Dubai serves as a major business hub for all of the Persian Gulf region and the larger international community. Because of this, it has become one of the very few multi-cultural melting pots of the world. Dubai’s heritage is becoming a combination of various customs and cultures due to the different international visitors or foreign nationals working and living in the region. What is more interesting and distinct about the city is that the business sector has fostered this concept. The main driving force behind the development of older cities such as London, Shanghai, or Milan has been established by each respective country’s national culture. Dubai, on the other hand, appears to have been crafted and developed around enabling a healthy multi-national and multi-cultural business community.

Upon arrival at Dubai International Airport, travelers are greeted by large-scale signage in both English and Arabic languages. These clearly and efficiently navigate visitors to Dubai’s immaculate public transportation system. While many still drive, as evident by the full roads of luxury cars, brands such as BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley, and Lamborghini, others heavily utilize public transportation. The city is mainly oriented to the shoreline and Dubaians, also referred to as Emiratis, have done an excellent job in creating a clean and well-planned metro and tram system that services the city. It is currently even being expanded to add more cross circulation lines to maximize efficiency.


The entire city is built for travelers. From day one tourists and foreign nationals have been the focus of this city, which, from an urban planner’s view, is a dream. From the beginning Dubai has been master-planned with the forethought of how and where the city would expand. Then planned accordingly to make sure the system established is easy to navigate and use for visitors and residents alike.


The city is not only a planned paradise but also a playground for architects and designers. Everywhere one turns there are towering cranes and exposed floor slabs serving as evidence of continued development. Multiple developers have transformed both the skyline and landscape of Dubai with buildings such as Burj Khalifa, the Palm Islands, Burj al Arab, Cayan (Infinity) Tower, Princess Tower, Dubai Mall, Dubai Marina, and Jumeirah Beach Hotel. The phrase “spare no expense” is not just an idea but a lifestyle. Many may think that this seems frivolous but it is quite the contrary. The Kingdom takes pride in the investment they have nurtured through Dubai. Great places are created through many investments in “place capital.” Individuals coming together to create opportunities for people to share and exchange experience or ideas all fostering one goal: to create a planned city with a strong economy that services the needs and desires of those who want to work hard, play hard, and live life to the fullest.

In my travels, I think cities worldwide can be classified into six categories:

  • Eco-Cities: to achieve the best environmentally friendly performance
  • Political Cities: to represent (national or local) government
  • Enclave Cities: to offer a retreat from an existing city
  • Economic Cities: to attract investment and to kick start the national economy
  • High-Tech Cities: utilizing technology as an attraction
  • Shelter Cities: to house the masses

Dubai has taken two of those ideals that truly support and drive each other, Enclave and Economic. Many people from around the world vacation and retire in Dubai. Dubai is the 7th most visited city in the world and is even called the shopping capital of the Middle East. With that said, much of Dubai’s economy is driven by tourism, hospitality and real estate. Hotels and resorts for those who visit for business and pleasure; and mixed-use, office, and retail developments to support those who live in the region. The cycle feeds itself and is sustained as long as the city continues to attract business and pleasure seekers.

All in all, Dubai is a fascinating model for any city built for innovation, truly a phenomenon to behold. To view additional photos from the trip, please visit here.


Brennan Murray is an Associate Environmental Graphic Designer with the Graphics studio at DDG.