Can “Green Cities” Like Masdar Really Translate In Abu Dhabi?


It sits in the middle of a harsh, barren desert, sweltering in searing heat. It has no clean water, its sea is polluted and there is no topsoil, just a covering of sand. It is also the biggest per capita consumer of fuel, massively reliant on cars, power-hungry desalination and air-conditioning. And with all this, can the United Arab Emirate state of Abu Dhabi really succeed in building a new “green city” in the Middle East?

If you can believe visionary people like architect Gerard Evenden (his words above), from the British architectural firm Foster & Partners, yes it can. Billions of dollars are riding on the assumption

Masdar City is the project Evenden is referring to. Masdar City is a $22 billion USD project being financed by the  Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company and is largely designed and planned by Foster & Partners.

So how is this so-called totally green city going to work in one of the hottest and driest regions on earth? According to Evenden, this futuristic project of 6 million square meters will eventually house around 50,000 people and will be completely environmentally sustainable – in every possible way.

As he noted in a recent Financial Times article The Greening of Arabia, by Edwin Heathcote :

“if you can make it work here, you can make it work anywhere.”

In one of Green Prophet’s previous articles on Masdar City it was noted that: “the project will be one in which commercial and residential entities will blend with each other to create a totally harmonious and ‘zero carbon’ environment, where all lighting and air conditioning systems will be powered by a 40 to 60 megawatt solar power plant, a 20 megawatt wind farm, and geo-thermal and hydrogen based power.”

The construction itself will be such as to shelter the inhabitants from the blistering Arabian sun and will include specially constructed walls, screens and meshes to allow breezes to enter and keep sunlight out as much as possible.

All this sounds absolutely wonderful and almost too good to be true. But as we pointed out earlier, Masdar City could either be a practical community innovation or expensive showcase.

The project has one big drawback – the construction itself.  Any true environmentalist knows that a significant construction project, such as the many that have been going on in various locations of the UAE, can in themselves be very damaging to an environment that is very fragile, to say the least.

Anyone visiting these locations must sometimes wonder at what expense to the environment these projects will cause, including island projects like Abu Dhabi’s planned $27 billion USD Saadiyat Island commercial, residential and leisure time project currently under construction, and mooted to become Abu Dhabi’s cultural center.

But once completed, Masdar City will hopefully prove to be as green and sustainable as its planners and developers say it will;  and will not be just a “showcase” project as Saadiyat Island looks to be by many.

What do you think? Voice your opinion below in our comments.

Article by Maurice Picow appearing courtesy of Green Prophet



Have any Question or Comment?

2 comments on “Can “Green Cities” Like Masdar Really Translate In Abu Dhabi?

Nick M

It always disappoints me when I hear something like “If it can be done here, it can be done anywhere.” What they are essentially saying is that the money they are spending has the least marginal value, because anywhere else it would require less money to accomplish the same thing, i.e. people with a zero carbon footprint. Zero carbon cities are going to have a learning curve as the technologies develop, so why not start somewhere that isn’t in a desert with little water and requires AC the majority of the year? The $22 billion would go a lot further somewhere else.

Tvrtko XXIII Kotromanic

I was wondering – can Abu Dhabi be a place to adopt smaller sustainability practices? Their focus is on renewable energy, building a whole eco-city from scratch, etc. These projects are huge. Is there space for more intimate and meaningful actions, given that utility or publicity value of such actions may not be as obvious right away?

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