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City of the future

April 21, 2010

No CO2, no waste, no cars: The emirate of Abu Dhabi is building the world's first sustainable city in the middle of the desert. Masdar City should be ready to welcome some 50,000 residents by 2016.

Artist's interpretation of Masdar City
The city of the future: artist's vision of Masdar in Abu DhabiImage: DW-TV

What does it cost to build a truly futuristic city? The answer: $22 billion, or 16.4 billion euros. Divide that by 50,000 residents, and you have a per capita cost of $440,000. That's how much Abu Dhabi is forking out to build Masdar City, the world's first carbon-neutral eco-city in the midst of the emirate's inhospitable desert terrain.

But Abu Dhabi, the world's sixth-largest oil exporter, is not bearing the cost alone. Due to Masdar City's climate-saving concept, the construction costs are being offset by the sale of emissions certificates, as regulated under the Kyoto Protocol. The city is set to become home to a population of 50,000 in 2016. And despite the extreme conditions of the desert location, residents will be afforded all manner of modern comforts that design and technology can provide.

Construction sign for Masdar City
Masdar City will be home to a center for cutting-edge technology, to inspire other cities to implement some of its climate-friendly conceptsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"The aim is for its residents to enjoy the highest quality of life, happy in the knowledge that they are making the lowest possible environmental impact," says the narrator of an image film produced by Foster and Partner, the main architecture company in charge of the project. British star architect Lord Norman Foster's company is working with around 500 partners from around the world to build the high-tech city. His team has also brought consultants such as Razan al-Mubarak, managing director of the Emirates Wildlife Society, on board.

A dream come true

"We're making a dream come true," she said. "We all want the best quality of life, we want to protect the environment, and we want to ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a healthy planet. Masdar City is based on 10 principles which, when it comes to sustainability, are often neglected: fair trade, health, happiness, respect for local traditions and culture, for example. This is the foundation upon which Masdar City is being built."

E-vehicle concept for Masdar City
E-vehicles will be part of a dense transportation network doing away with the need for personal cars

With 80 percent less water consumption than conventional cities, 100 percent waste recycling, and zero percent CO2 emissions, there is definitely something dream-like about Masdar City. As in traditional Arab cities, the streets will be narrow so buildings will shade each other. There won't be any impact on traffic, as the streets are designed for pedestrians. The whole city is to be car-free. A dense network of metro stations and electronic vehicles on tracks will ensure that transportation modes are separated by no more than 200 meters.

Power to come solely from renewables

Buildings, parks, and water plants will make use of clever architectural design elements to keep the desert city cool and comfortable. All the energy consumed in the city will come from solar and wind energy plants, and any excess energy produced will be fed into the grid to power other cities. The designers seem to have thought of everything - including an economic base, says Sultan al-Jaber, managing director and CEO of Masdar.

"Masdar will attract companies from all over the world, as well as banks, investment firms, and companies that want to do research and development here," he said. "Masdar City is quite simply the solution for the whole value added chain in the renewable energy sector."

In addition to an ultra-modern technology center, which is being built in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) will also have its headquarters in Masdar City.

The futuristic vision of the world's leading researchers is currently being created in the desert, and even if the concept behind Masdar can't be implemented one-to-one in other places, the founders of this forward-looking laboratory guarantee that their city will make technological breakthroughs that can be replicated elsewhere. Or, as the image film concludes: "One day, all cities will be built like this."

Author: Helle Jeppesen (dc)

Editor: Anke Rasper