New ‘digital geographies’ are emerging globally as technology and digitalisation change the nature of how and where we work and live. Nowhere are these changes more apparent than in Dubai, which has developed a reputation for the rapid adoption of new technologies and radically different approaches to city building.
Dubai’s economic growth has been built on creating clusters of similar businesses in a range of free-trade zones – the city’s 26 free zones account for around 30% of the Emirate’s economy. This model is now evolving with efforts being made to break down traditional constraints and encourage greater diversity within individual projects. The pace of liberalisation is increasing, with new plans to allow 100% foreign ownership of companies outside of free zones expected before the end of 2018.
Free zones have produced more pronounced clusters (by business sector) than onshore locations, and the most successful free zones in Dubai have generally achieved the highest levels of concentration and specialism. Dubai has been more successful in attracting mature Western companies than in fostering new start-up businesses or attracting corporates from the Asia Pacific region. This situation is likely to change given recent initiatives to promote innovation and nurture new start-ups.
Dubai increasingly shares many of the characteristics of dynamic ‘New World Cities’ whose future growth is dependent upon their ability to capitalise on changes in the digital economy. The real estate sector has a key role to play in this evolution, by helping to cultivate a range of different environments where Dubai’s 21st century digital workforce can thrive and thereby create employment and wealth.
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Author: Craig Plumb
Craig has over 20 years’ experience providing clients with quality advice on real estate market conditions in the UK, Asia Pacific and the Middle East. With a background in urban economics and spatial planning, he has particular expertise in the areas of property market research, development consultancy, transport related infrastructure projects and corporate real estate.
Since moving to the UAE in 2006, Craig has authored over 50 research reports on different aspects of the MENA real estate market. He has also provided market research and consulting services to major investor, developer and government clients and has appeared as an independent real estate expert before the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC).
Craig holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics & Geography from Lancaster University and an M.Phil in Environmental Planning from Reading University (UK).