Expo City: Model smart city

Billed as the UAE's first 15-minute city and a smart city for the future, Expo City’s 1,083-acre footprint is a role model for repurposing (encompasses 80% of the original Expo2020 Dubai site) and the home of COP28. 

The first World Expo site to be extensively repurposed to create a 15-minute city built on global sustainability principles and a net-zero by 2050 goal, Expo City is a model for the future of urban community living.

Spanning an area of 4.38 square kilometres of reclaimed desert and part of the Dubai South master planned development, Expo City Dubai has emerged from the legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai to position itself as a people-centric smart city of the future.

With 85 to 90 per cent of the world’s buildings expected to still be in use in 2050, adaptive reuse was intrinsic to the original pre-Expo masterplan with 80 per cent of the infrastructure identified for repurposing into a new residential, business and entertainment district. 

In implementing an adaptive reuse strategy, Expo City Dubai’s footprint was aligned with the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan, the national ‘Green Economy for Sustainable Development’ initiative, the ‘We the UAE 2031’ vision, the UAE Centennial 2071 Plan, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The challenge

Repurposing an existing building, let alone reimagining a 483-hectare mixed-use site built for a world fair was a major undertaking. This involved the preservation of certain original structures, including the Al Wasl dome and UAE pavilion, and adaptation of other spaces and buildings for long-term usage.

In tandem, Expo City Dubai has established rigorous interim targets for its operational carbon footprint, including reductions of 45 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2040; ahead of achieving net zero by 2050. Under its robust decarbonisation roadmap, embodied carbon reduction goals (to be realised primarily through construction materials) are targeted at a 40 per cent reduction by 2030, rising to 100 percent, and offset, by 2050. This goes beyond the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Inventories (GPC) for urban centres requirement.

The response

Designed along 15-minute city planning principles, the Expo City Dubai site has been transformed into a self-sustaining urban destination featuring advanced technology, including smart living environments, micro-mobility solutions, and car-free districts.

Within the 80 per cent of retained built infrastructure, a total of 123 buildings have achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification: seven Platinum, 105 Gold, nine Silver; and two Certified. In addition, eight infrastructure projects across the site have been awarded an ‘Excellent’ rating under BREEAM Infrastructure. 

This has been achieved through various measure and programmes.


The construction value chain follows both the Sustainable Materials Guidelines and RISE Guidelines, which span mitigation of negative environmental, social, and economic materials impact; address embodied carbon content; cover recycling, repurposing and responsible sourcing; etc. 

Expo City Dubai has carried through the Expo 2020 Dubai commitment to reuse, or store for reuse, more than one million tonnes of excavation material; reduce embodied carbon in major construction materials; and implement modular construction methods to reduce waste and energy. 

In addition, it is replacing road asphalt with recycled rubber, using low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content paints, and Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified timber.


The city’ waste management operational ecosystem follows circular economy principles, from the reuse of recycled, biodegradable and recyclable materials, to  implementing the latest technological processing solutions. 

To help save water, condensate capture and greywater recycling is used in washrooms flush systems and also in cooling systems.

Public spaces feature smart bins that incorporate three distinct waste streams: organic, recyclable, and general. Expo City Dubai also has a visitor outreach programme to educate on how waste can be reused. This supports proper segregation methods and is driving a higher separation rate.


Site-wide smart technology using sensors and smart metering tools, monitors the consumption of power and water, and the generation of waste. Smart energy-saving appliances have also been integrated within residential units.

Across the site, water features, shading structures, green roofs, trees and landscaping, as well as the use of lighter coloured materials are part of the passive design strategy, which helps to reduce heat.


Expo City Dubai is the first community in the region to register under the WELL Community Standard and is aiming for Gold certification. This builds upon the global WELL Building Standard roadmap and provides a  framework for the development of health and wellbeing-focused communities. 

This is evidenced through the provision of 45,000-square metres of green parks and landscaped gardens, access to running and cycling tracks, and a number of children’s playgrounds.

Wellbeing and environmental principles intersect in the city’s landscaping masterplan, with the prioritisation of native and adaptive species that consume less water; supported by a commitment to avoiding the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers across more than 90 per cent of landscaped areas.


The BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating  is the highest possible rating given by an internationally recognised sustainability assessment for civil engineering, and a first for a project in the Middle East.

In the longer term. Expo City Dubai is exploring opportunities such as sustainable soil management and implementation of carbon capture technologies. In the meantime, it plans to look at offsetting through external means, such as mangrove restoration projects, in order to compensate for residual emissions from within the city.

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