The site is among one of the most incredible locations in the history of world expositions
“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
Those twelve simple words, written in 1859 by the immortal Charles Dickens to artfully describe 18th Century England in his masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities, could have been written about global affairs today.
In my professional career spanning almost four decades, I cannot remember a time when more people in more countries have more opportunities to live a good life. Yet most Western societies have descended into resentment and revenge.
Gone are the voices and visions of people like Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr., the great dreamers and doers of peace and unity, locally and globally. In their place has arisen particularly ugly strains of nationalism, populism, and wokeism, along with increasingly successful efforts at delegitimisation and dehumanisation in politics, economics, and day-to-day life in country after country.
But amidst all this noise, there is one notable exception. In a time of unrelenting negativity that is sweeping across the globe and through every area of our personal lives, the opening of the Expo 2020 Dubai is a welcoming breath of fresh air.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege to experience the first two days of the world exhibition held in the United Arab Emirates, and it was as heartening as it was mind-blowing. I’m not referring to the stunning architecture and life-changing innovations on display wherever you turn.
I’m referring to the exchange of inspiring new perspectives by the hosts and visitors from all corners of the globe who are seeking to broaden their horizons in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
With over 190 nations and territories represented, most with their own stunning pavilions, Expo 2020 Dubai draws visitors from every walk of life.
It’s like the Olympics for science, societies, and cultures. In just 48 hours, I broke bread with visitors from Saudi Arabia and Iran, Russia and Ukraine, China and Vietnam.
Expo 2020 Dubai is a living, breathing demonstration that we can engage in global conversations that matter.
As an American pollster who has gathered public opinion in more than two dozen countries, the partisan political behaviour of my government over the past half-decade has been lamentable and regrettable.
Tragically, the divisions I see in America are breaking out across the globe. Yet I am reassured by the Expo 2020 Dubai that a world in which we seek to make a difference, not just a statement, is still within reach.
Every national pavilion at Expo 2020 serves as a focal point for social innovation and cultural collaboration on an international scale. In a world where symbolism and virtue-signaling matters, the presence of and constant lines at pavilions suggest a healthy public curiosity about what nations say about themselves and their worldview.
Whether it’s a perfect digital reproduction of Michelangelo’s masterpiece David at the Italian pavilion, Russia’s stunning light show on the wonders of the human mind, or America’s celebration of the wonders of space exploration, every pavilion is a visually striking, intellectually enlightening, and emotionally inspiring experience. Expo 2020 Dubai truly is the entire world, all in one place.
But what makes Expo so compelling is that it necessitates action and interaction. There is so much to see, feel, touch, imagine, learn, and do. And all of this happens on a campus that’s twice the size of the city of Monaco.
I call the Expo site a campus because it has all of the energy, intensity, and excitement of a university – and the people among you are truly the best and brightest the world has to offer. The campus took six years to build, and it is among one of the most incredible locations in the history of world expositions.
And when Expo closes its doors at the end of March, the site will live on, retaining 80 per cent of the global pavilions, as it is transformed into a fully integrated, people-centered smart city designed by those who live and work there.
The mission and vision for District 2020 is for people, businesses, technologies, and industries to connect, collaborate, and innovate towards a cleaner, safer, and healthier way of life. This community is committed to becoming one of the world’s most impactful global incubators for new ideas.
A lot has happened in Dubai since I first visited exactly 30-years ago. Gone are sand-swept miles of desert, replaced almost entirely by modern buildings and a modern attitude. The country’s shared mission for human progress is based on gender equality, and women now occupy some of the most important positions of power, both in the economy and in government.
As essential as a country’s past, we should all care even more about its present and future. Having visited more than 50 countries in the past two decades, I know of no county more focused on the future. Youth are raised and taught with a spirit of multiculturalism and mutual respect, based on the vision that education anywhere should prepare you for life everywhere. I know.
I teach at NYU Abu Dhabi, the most global university on the face of the planet. Like the country that sponsors it, the university is devoted to attracting the best young talent in the world to help them rethink and reimagine the future of humanity.
If we wish to foster a welcoming society for future generations and unite the world to tackle and solve today’s most intractable real-life challenges, it can only happen with a commitment to global cooperation, collaboration, and compromise.
No nation, institution, or ideology has a monopoly on the truth, but all nations should be involved in the pursuit of the truth.
Walk through each Expo 2020 Dubai pavilion, as I did, and you’ll realise that the borders that divide us are far less important than the humanity that unites us.
Frank Luntz is an American political and communications consultant who teaches at NYU Abu Dhabi
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