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Saudi Arabia’s Pavilion Co-Hosts Landmark Event During Urban & Rural Development Week At Expo 2020 Dubai

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai has co-hosted several sessions of the two-day ‘Symposium for Inclusive Urban Ingenuity’ as part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s thematic Urban and Rural Development Week. Held between 2-3 November, experts shared their knowledge and insights on key topics such as Aquatic Urbanism; Participation and Inclusivity; Desert Architecture & Climate Design; and Culture & Representation.

The hybrid in-person and virtual symposium was co-hosted by the Australian Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai as well as the Expo 2020 Youth Pavilion. Participating entities included Griffith University (Australia), Effat University (Saudi Arabia), Zayed University (UAE), The University of Queensland (Australia), Bond University’s Abedian School of Architecture (Australia), UN Habitat; and Ingenious Women’s Initiatives for Sustainable Urban Development.

Welcoming the attendees, Hussain Hanbazazah, Commissioner General of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Pavilion, said Australia and Saudi Arabia share similar desert and coastal ecosystems and both face dramatic threats of desertification and climate change set to leave a lasting economic and social impact on urban coastal areas.

“In view of these challenges, the Kingdom has recently launched the Saudi Green Initiative by planning to plant 10 billion trees and the Middle East Green Initiative aiming  to plant 40 billion trees across the Middle East, along with ambitious plans, which will take us, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to net zero by 2060 – and improve the quality of life and protect  future generations, within the Kingdom andthe region,” he said. 

Hanbazazah thanked the participants and attendees, adding the symposium highlighted “the Kingdom’s commitment to sustainable development and working on these critical issues with key partners and experts, allowing us to truly embody the (Expo theme of) ‘Connecting Mind, Creating the Future’.”

Justin McGowan, Australia’s Commissioner General for Expo 2020 Dubai, told the attendees: “It’s great to see so many academics and universities involved in such an important topic. The Symposium for Inclusive Urban Ingenuity is important for Australia. We’re very glad to see this conversation happening here today.” He added that Australia, the driest continent on Earth, Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East, faced very similar climatic and environmental conditions which created a number of shared challenges.

Featuring Dr. Maryam Ficociello, Chief Governance Officer, Red Sea Development Company and AMAALA (Saudi Arabia), Tuesday’s session on Aquatic Urbanism aimed to provide a critical overview of different approaches to dealing with challenges faced by and opportunities available to contemporary coastal cities - with more than 400 million people around the world living less than five meters above sea level and likely to experience many detrimental effects as a result of predicted rises in sea levels.

Dr. Ficociello said even though the Red Sea Development Project covers a huge area of 30,000 sq. km., as a sustainable and regenerative project it has made the decision to only develop 1% of that land and avoids building in areas that would hurt the environment such as islands that are natural holes for turtles or homes to migratory birds and pecans which are critically endangered.

“We’re also trying to reach 30% net positive conservation by 2040,” she said. “We've been working on ensuring that we develop a tourism destination that is not just sustainable, but even more than that is regenerative. ..When we started development, we set out to ensure that whatever we're developing makes sense and that we're building around nature or with nature rather than moving nature aside and building.”

The Participation and Inclusivity session, also on Tuesday, featured Samantha Cotterell, Executive Director - Design, Royal Commission for AlUla (Saudi Arabia); Dr. Aida Robbana, UN-Habitat Head of Office in Tunisia; and two speakers who joined the event virtually - Prof. Yasser Elsheshtawy, Adjunct Professor of Architecture at Columbia University, New York (USA); and Prof. Asmaa Ibrahim, Dean of the College of Architecture and Design, Effat University (Saudi Arabia).

Other speakers included Asma Bukhammas, Interior Design Instructor, College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University; and Yunsun Chung, Co-Founder and Director of INNOCO, an initiative that empowers youth to be leaders and community-builders, who has also taught Art and Design at Zayed University.

During the session, experts talked about how neoliberal urbanization policies that favor the interests of investors at the expense of the majority of city inhabitants remained prominent. However, they addressed that there are efforts which aim at mitigating such tendencies, that may help trigger a broader dialogue eventually leading to an open, accessible urban environment for all.

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