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Creating Sustainable Green Cities: Lessons from Jumeirah Garden City in Dubai

14 Sept 2023

We examine the original vision for Jumeirah Garden City, why it has struggled, and the key lessons that can be learned for creating truly sustainable green cities.

Urbanization is rapidly increasing around the world, with close to 70% of the global population expected to live in cities by 2050. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for city planners and architects to design urban environments that are ecologically sustainable. 

Many cities have embarked on ambitious "green city" projects to create communities focused on environmental sustainability. However, successfully executing these visions has proven difficult.

Jumeirah Garden City in Dubai is one such example of a green city project that has failed to fully deliver on its sustainability goals.

In this article, we will examine the original vision for Jumeirah Garden City, why it has struggled, and the key lessons that can be learned for creating truly sustainable green cities.

Original Vision for Jumeirah Garden City

Jumeirah Garden City (JGC) was conceived in the early 2000s as a flagship sustainable community on the outskirts of Dubai. The project was led by the Dubai Holding real estate conglomerate and designed by architects Atkins.

The vision for JGC was to be a model green city aligning with Dubai's broader sustainability objectives. As a leading Middle Eastern business hub, Dubai was looking to drive sustainable practices in the region. JGC was seen as a prototype for future cities in Dubai and beyond.

Key features of the plan included:

  • Dense urban development concentrated in walkable neighborhoods connected by public transit

  • Mixed-use zoning with seamlessly integrated residential, retail, and office spaces to minimize transportation needs

  • Extensive pedestrian, cycling, and public transit infrastructure to reduce reliance on private automobiles

  • District cooling systems to optimize energy efficiency in buildings across the development

  • Water recycling infrastructure and rainwater harvesting systems to maximize water efficiency

  • Abundant greenery, parks, shaded areas, and open spaces spread throughout the communities

  • Environmentally friendly building designs and construction materials tailored to the local climate

JGC was divided into multiple phases, with various property developers appointed through a competitive bidding process to build out different neighborhoods according to the sustainability standards. JGC was originally envisaged to eventually house 400,000 residents in a truly green urban environment.

Failures in Execution

While the vision for Jumeirah Garden City was ambitious and groundbreaking, the actual execution fell far short of the intended sustainability goals. The development has been afflicted by poor oversight, design compromises, lack of coordination between developers, and issues adapting to Dubai's extremely hot climate.

Some of the key failures include:

  • Lack of unified master planning: Individual developers focused narrowly on their own neighborhoods, without adequate overarching planning. This led to fragmented, disjointed development.

  • Design not optimized for Dubai climate: Building designs did not fully account for the harsh desert climate. Lack of shading, insulation, and greenery have made walking outdoors often unbearable due to heat.

  • Inadequate transportation: Connections to wider public transit networks were limited. Neighborhoods were also not designed for comfortable walking, forcing reliance on air-conditioned private vehicles.

  • Unsustainable water systems: Water recycling infrastructure was not adequately built out, while inappropriate landscaping and irrigation designs wasted large volumes of water.

  • Energy efficiency failures: District cooling systems were not effectively integrated into enough buildings. Solar heat gain was also not minimized in designs, leading to very high air conditioning usage.

  • Loss of green space: Lush gardens and parks envisioned in initial plans were displaced by more buildings over time, under commercial pressure. Current green space is inadequate.

  • Poor construction standards: Some developers cut corners on materials and methods, compromising energy efficiency and water systems. Lax oversight enabled this.

  • Insufficient governance: No effective ongoing governance model was created to ensure continuity of the sustainability vision as development progressed.

These issues illustrate the complexities of effectively implementing green city development plans, especially on such a large scale. It reflects how ambition alone is insufficient without diligent, competent execution.

Key Lessons

Jumeirah Garden City provides several important lessons for policymakers, developers, and sustainability professionals seeking to create truly sustainable green city projects globally:

Holistic Master Planning is Crucial

There must be coordinated, holistic master planning from the early stages, with sustainability and livability central tenets throughout. Individual components must seamlessly integrate under a broader sustainable vision. Open communication, data sharing, and governance frameworks should ensure alignment.

Design Locally and Contextually

Buildings, infrastructure, and public spaces need specialized designs tailored to the unique local climate, culture, demographics, and urban settings. Global best practices serve as useful starting points but customization is vital. Local sustainability consultants and architects should drive context-appropriate solutions.

Transportation Should Incentivize Sustainability

Transportation infrastructure must holistically integrate with sustainable mobility options like walking, cycling, and public transit. Car-centric designs reflect outdated, inefficient thinking. Parking and roads should be deprioritized relative to shaded, walkable pedestrian spaces and bike lanes.

Prioritize Social Sustainability

A green city must be socially sustainable too, promoting healthy, vibrant, and connected communities. High quality public parks, amenities, community events, and inclusive governance structures are key. Diverse housing options prevent segregation.

Adaptability is Crucial

Conditions continually evolve, so sustainable communities require flexibility to adapt. New technologies or changes in climate patterns, demographics, or economy should be incorporated into planning processes. Continued monitoring, maintenance and improvement mechanisms are necessary.

Rigorous Development Oversight Essential

Comprehensive sustainability standards, benchmarks, and compliance mechanisms must be established. Lax oversight inevitably compromises execution. Development and construction should be independently audited against sustainability targets.


Creating truly sustainable and liveable green cities is challenging but vitally important for the future. Jumeirah Garden City's shortfalls highlight typical pitfalls, but also pathways to success. With holistic planning centered on sustainability, locally-tailored designs, alternative transit, social inclusion, adaptability, and rigorous oversight, green cities can fulfill their promise to drive more ecologically harmonious urban development globally.

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