shutterstock_255293044By Hadley Newman, MENA Regional Director – Experiential @ Cheil MENA


How would you distinguish Dubai from other big Middle Eastern Cities? Would it be by its significant architectural achievements? Maybe the advanced technology or the multiculturalism? By 2020 when Dubai EXPO takes place, it is likely that a number of other characteristics will be contributing to the positioning and recognition of the city developed and established through creative placemaking.

The recognition of Dubai’s creative and cultural initiatives is a key ambition for the UAE government and there are many such initiatives newly completed or under way. In recent years, the government has set targets that lead the city towards success in 2020, including the well-documented ambition of 20 million tourists by 2020.  In order to attract more people to Dubai numerous creative enterprises have been initiated and are being implemented in an effort to achieve the targets. Already, expectations are being exceeded.

Many of these initiatives are already operational. They are creating a unique environment for both tourists and inhabitants, and in doing so, contributing to the economy and brand positioning of the city. Research conducted in Dubai identified how creative placemaking can enrich the city.

The research titled ‘A phenomenological study of creative placemaking: extending the concept to the destination branding of Dubai’, aimed to define the contributors of successful creative placemaking and its impact on Dubai as a destination. The research findings were drawn from a literature review of high-ranking peer reviewed journals with 175 references and interviews with subject matter specialists and senior professionals in creative, government and cultural sectors conducted over a 4-month period.

What is creative placemaking?

Introduced by Rocco Landesman, as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in 2009 when repositioning arts and culture in US communities, the concept of creative placemaking partners people from public, private, non-profit and community sectors to strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighbourhood, town, tribe, city or region around arts and cultural activities.

The term was given to the practice of leveraging the power of arts, culture and creativity to serve the community’s interest. In doing so, the town or city takes on its own distinct identity. This acts as a form of marketing, known in the industry as destination branding.

Visitors to any destination are seeking an experience. They want to take it home with them, or look back on an event as something like a new adventure – one that they may never have a chance to do again. People expect a complete experience that is distinctive in each place. This in part explains the popularity of services including Airbnb, which is essentially the rental of a domestic property. Rather than stay in a hotel, the user will enjoy the unique and authentic experience of a residential property, have the opportunity to temporarily be part of the community and enjoy the characteristics and style of a home typical to that area.

Destination Branding

The term destination branding refers to the branding of a place as if it were a consumer product. Considering the experiential nature of tourism, creative placemaking is being used for value creation for a brand from the arts. The use of a creative network or the creative community of a city for the purposes of design, will contribute to the uniqueness of that place. This uniqueness has a value to the destination and can be marketed as such. The above mentioned research project  in Dubai identified a compelling connection between the tourism destination and the brand through the use of creative placemaking. A key finding from the research was that Dubai is now perceived as the leading city in the region for the creative industries, and therefore, enjoys an increased brand recognition. The shift from the old positioning, which accentuated mall culture and incredible architecture, towards a position that puts experience at its core, with the arts playing a major role, is now a key focus for the city in order to develop a destination brand. Dubai is no longer recognised simply by its engineering feats and architectural accomplishments, but as a place where you can experience world-class events and festivals.

Creative placemaking initiatives have worked in conjunction with several big Dubai projects. Dubai Design District is expected to positively reflect on Dubai branding internationally, through designer fashion and interior design, whilst Dubai Opera will host a number of major touring productions in performing arts. The Dubai Canal development will support the creative placemaking of the city through plans of rejuvenation and community building further evolving the destination as a brand. With many of these environments now operational and recognised as cultural hot-spots, a growing number of visitors to the city is expected.


The creative sector benefits world cities primarily through socio-economic contribution, a product of creative placemaking. As Dubai is a creative city, and the creative industries are sophisticated and mature, creative placemaking positively affects Dubai as a destination. Architecture, film and video, design and predominantly performing arts are the main drivers of creative placemaking in Dubai, and with further integration will lead to Dubai being recognized as one of the cultural epicentres of the world. The use of the cultural industries coupled with a human-centered approach to the development based on mutual respect and open dialogue among cultures will lead to lasting, inclusive and equitable results for Dubai as a place to live and a destination to visit.