Dubai, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, sultans and shieks - these are foreign terms to us Westerners, but ones we no doubt will become familiar with. If you saw the television program 60 Minutes recently, you may have been awe-struck by the development occurring in Dubai, one of seven states (called Emerates) that comprise the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Dubai is building as fast as it can & sans environmental regulations. Dubbed the "richest city in the world," it has $300 billion in development projects underway, including a skyscraper twice the height of NYC's Empire State Building. Next door, another UAE state, Abu Dhabi, is following in its footsteps, but is taking a more sustainable approach. Its fascinating Madscar initiative is an attempt to create the world's first sustainable city - Arab-style.
In April 2006, Abu Dhabi decided to create Masdar - which means - the Source - in Arabic, a walled city covering 640 hectares. Promoters say it "will be living testimony to the possibility of sustainable cities." The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, the company executing the Masdar initiative, calls it the "creation of a historic global shift to new energy sources and sustainable resource utilization."
In contrast to neighboring Dubai, which is building an energy-consumptive city of glass, steel and concrete towers, Masdar is being designed to run entirely on renewable energy. World renown architect Lord Foster is designing Masdar so that its 50,000 residents will live on streets modeled on traditional souks and medinas - but draped with shades of fabric that convert sunlight into electricity. Canals will run alongside the streets, some of which will be only 10 feet wide to protect pedestrians from the heat, which averages over 40C in the shade during the summer. There will be fields of solar concentrating mirrors in the desert and wind turbines will catch breezes from the Gulf.
Palm and mangrove plantations will create a green belt around the city to provide raw material for bio-fuels, a new industry that, say developers, may one day supplement oil and gas revenues. The tiny emirate is the fifth largest exporter of oil in the world, but it is envisaged that Masdar City will not need a drop. "We want to position ourselves as thinkers and progressives," says Sultan Al Jaber, the chief executive of Masdar. "Years ago in the Middle East we lived in a very sustainable environment. We are bringing that back by creating a compact city where people don't need to use a car."
Adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport, the goal is to create a city based on sustainable employment, eventually facilitating a population of 100,000. The first stage of development will set the tone for the entire project; the construction of a state-of-the-art photovoltaic power plant that will deliver the energy required to build the entire city!
The compact, high-density city will be completely free of cars and their emissions; a world model of energy conservation with zero carbon emissions and zero waste. Compared to average urban levels, fossil fuel consumption will be reduced by 75%, water demand by 300% and waste production by 400%. Cycling and walking will be the most common means of travel.
Accoring to the city's master plan, no one will be more than 200 meters from essential facilities, including shops selling locally grown produce. A fully automated, electric Personal Rapid Transit System will provide a flexible and comfortable alternative to private cars. A Light Railway Transport system will link the Masdar development to adjacent developments, the airport and in the future with the center of Abu Dhabi.
Futuristically, developers plan to integrate real time monitoring of energy use and carbon emissions in public spaces. Digital management and intelligent systems with sensors and data mining will provide information to support the decisions of individuals and service providers.
Through a micro-chip-like network of connections, developers plan to coalesce the expertise and resources to enable global technological breakthroughs in advanced energy technologies. There will be a university education and research center - the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (in partnership with MIT) - which will offer Masters and PhD programs in science and engineering disciplines focused on advanced energy and sustainability. Its research and educational institutions and partnerships will search for solutions to mankind's most pressing problems: energy security, climate change and truly sustainable human development.
Special economic zones will attract business and commercial partners focused on the advanced energy systems and technologies from around the world, from start-ups to major corporations.