An oasis in the desert, or not

Rendering of Masdar City; Wikipedia (2013)

Rendering of Masdar City; Wikipedia (2013)

Masdar City, located in the United Arab Emirates, is being developed by Masdar a renewable energy company based in Abu Dabi, United Arab Emirates and is the newest in a series of cities being built around the world with the intent of creating highly environmentally friendly, technology intensive communities.

Billed as “one of the most sustainable cities on the planet” Masdar City boasts, among its’ many innovations, a wall that blocks the hot desert breezes and shaded streets that help keep everything cool, cutting down on the need for air conditioning.  And, an initial concept of a fleet of  PRT vehicles that run on guideways and do not use gasoline.  The PRT program ended up being cost prohibitive however and will not be expanded beyond the initial pilot area.  Electric vehicles are now being tested as an alternative.

PRT pod car; Wikipedia (2013)

PRT pod car; Wikipedia (2013)

The city will be powered by numerous alternative energy resources such as solar, wind, geothermal and the world’s largest hydrogen power plant.  To address the issues of water management in the desert, the city will utilize a solar powered desalination plant for most of it’s water needs and intends to recycle 80% of the water for other uses such as irrigation.  The city is planned to generate zero waste as well through the utilization of biological waste as fertilizer and the incineration of other wastes as a means of power generation.

Masdar City is also intended to be home to educational institutions and other facilities that

Courtyard of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology; Wikipedia (2013)

Courtyard of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology; Wikipedia (2013)

are on the cutting edge of sustainability design for the future.  The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology is leading the way in this vision, as an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology it offers graduate level research programs that focus on sustainability and alternative energy.

Global reaction to the project has been mostly positive with support and applause from watchdog groups such as Greenpeace and World Wide Fund for Nature for it’s innovative approach to sustainable development.  There are skeptics as well that site the fact that this is a new from the ground up project and that perhaps money could be better spent and the sustainability goal better reached through retrofitting existing cities with the innovations used in Masdar City.  Others have stated the realistic concern that this type of development is simply a symbolic gesture with no real impact that will become the ultimate gated community for the wealthy.  Nicolai Ouroussoff in an opinion piece summed this up very well

“the crystallization of another global phenomenon: the growing division of the world into refined, high-end enclaves and vast formless ghettos where issues like sustainability have little immediate relevance”

I personally find Masdar City an interesting concept but do feel that at least right now it is more of a novelty than a real plan for future cities.  It does show amazing innovation within it’s city walls, but does nothing to address the problems outside the city. With it’s small population it may actually lead to more emissions with as many as 60,000 of the workers for the estimated 1500 businesses to be located within the city having to commute daily from other places, as of the date of this blog no public transit is in place for this.  It makes no sense to bring workers in to contribute to green ideas but not provide an environmentally responsible way for them to commute.  In that aspect Masdar City seems like another chapter in the book on continued global sprawl.

I also fear that developments such as this will create an atmosphere of haves and have nots, Those who have money will be able to live within these walled cities but the rest of the world’s population will be left on the outside.  It would be a better use of money and resources to attempt to work with existing cites and the framework that we all live in to retrofit old buildings to be sustainable as opposed to taking up land mass with yet another development.

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