Hussain Sajwani, founder and Chairman of DAMAC Properties
In any industry, there comes a time when the torchbearers of the industry have the opportunity to revisit the true purpose of their business. I believe that Dubai’s real estate sector is at such a juncture and we, as the leading real estate developers of this fast-evolving city, have a unique opportunity to revaluate the purpose of what we do with a fresh perspective. Real estate development, in essence, is the principal mechanism by which communities are developed. It is not just about constructing physical units and expecting people to purchase or rent these units as a place to live or work. There are plenty of examples around the world where developers have prioritised tactical aspects of real estate such as road connectivity, proximity to business centres, or built area, and overlooked cultural elements such as community engagement and the holistic wellbeing of residents. However, cities are changing in tandem with the evolving aspirations of people who are not just looking for houses, but homes within wholesome communities. They are seeking communities that resonate with their beliefs, where they can make meaningful human connections. For real estate developers operating in a dynamic environment like Dubai, adopting a cultural shift that is aligned to the evolving expectations of investors and buyers is the most pragmatic way forward.
A Culture of Community
The term ‘community’ has two connotations. On the one hand, it implies a physical manifestation of people living in the same place, and on the other, it denotes a sense of belonging. While real estate developers have mastered the craft of creating spaces where people can live together, there is a lot more that can be explored when it comes to promoting community living. Developing infrastructures such as community centres, sports facilities and community parks is just one part of the job. Activating these assets and turning these spaces into places where residents can meet each other and make meaningful connections is also up to the developer and community managers, and this is what makes for holistic living spaces. For instance, at DAMAC Hills, which features state-of-the-art facilities and amenities such as The Trump International Golf Club, a community skate park, the stables and horse riding academy, the tennis academy, and the community centre, among others, our community management team regularly organises events and activities to bring residents together. We strive to create an ideal atmosphere for families to thrive in and get to know each other. From movie nights and skating events to women-centric gatherings and carnivals for children, we are continuously looking for new and exciting ways to breathe life into our communities. The key to building a strong culture of co-existence is an intimate understanding of the needs, aspirations and motivations of the residents.
A Culture of Values
The culture of any community is driven primarily by the values of the residents, and it is up to developers and community managers to create an environment that celebrates these shared values. At DAMAC, values have served as one of the key foundation stones for all our projects. Ghalia, our first Sharia-compliant development is an excellent example of creating an entire community around the shared values of prospective buyers. Knowing that today’s millennial buyers enjoy unique experiences, as well as luxury living, we have partnered with some of the biggest luxury brands in the world such as Fendi Casa, Paramount Hotels and Resorts, Trump International, and Just Cavalli to create highly differentiated luxury living experiences. In addition to reflecting the values of prospective buyers, developers also have the chance to foster values like green-living, sustainable living and mindfulness. For example, at DAMAC Hills one of our major master development projects, we have provided opportunities for residents to explore activities such as organic farming and cultivation through the ‘Green-Zone’ in which they can cultivate organic fruits and vegetables.
A Culture of Well-being
Developers and their community management arms also have the chance to play a key role in promoting a culture of good health and wellbeing within communities. It is not just about building state-of-the-art fitness centres or jogging tracks, but about encouraging residents to lead an active lifestyle. At DAMAC, we regularly partner with fitness instructors to organise free sessions for our residents on weekends. We have successfully integrated activities such as yoga and zumba across our communities. Besides hosting events, developers can also promote healthy living through the intelligent design of community spaces. By creating dedicated paths for cycling and walking, as we have done at AKOYA and DAMAC Hills, we can encourage residents to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
‘Community development’ is a collaborative effort between residents and community management and keeping an open line of communication and feedback is a crucial aspect of any thriving community. That’s why we have launched the ‘Hello DAMAC’ platform, which is an online customer self-service portal that lets residents connect with us round the clock. Besides enabling residents to access a variety of services on the go, the platform allows them to share their feedback with the community management team as well.
From building units to developing communities, the rationale behind Dubai’s real estate sector requires a paradigm shift. We must realise that our job doesn’t end at handing over completed units to our buyers. In fact, this is where the more complex role of getting to know our residents, engaging with them to achieve their aspirations begins. As Dubai matures into a city where people are looking to settle in for the long run, it is up to us to reflect this maturity in our approach to real estate development. We should remind ourselves that in gauging the success of our projects, the residents’ experience is as relevant as the net profits.