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  • Published: Oct 14th, 2010
  • Category: Asia
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First ‘zero-carbon city’ plans meet reality

| Sourced From Guilfordian |

Automated transportation. High-tech designs. Solar electricity. Americanized gated communities. Incinerating waste systems. All of these visionary ideas are part of an intriguing model for Masdar, the world’s first zero-carbon city, which is being built 20 miles outside of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in the heart of the Arabian Desert.

According to The New York Times, in 2007 the Abu Dhabi government announced their plans to build the “world’s first zero-carbon city.” Many Westerners paid little attention to the statement, thinking it was just a follow up to Dubai’s half-mile-high tower. Surprising many Westerners, however, the city is up and well on its way.

The new sustainable city in the Arabian desert is, in fact, carbon-free. Even transportation in the city leaves no carbon footprint, due to an innovative model of cars that use zero-carbon to operate. According to The New York Times, Masdar will employ an automated system of electric vehicles, including passenger cars and freight trucks. The city’s ground was elevated 23 feet, and the vehicles will operate underground.

Many of the buildings are designed to resist the hot climates of the desert, which can reach temperatures of 150 degrees. According to The New York Times, the buildings were built on high grounds to accelerate airflow through the city, with some buildings raised on a 23-foot-high base to capture the desert breeze as well as to make it accessible for the city’s transportation system.

The sustainable community includes many designs from ancient architecture. According to The New York Times, a modern interpretation of the Arabian wind tower is used to cool the plaza areas at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. The tall and hollow “wind towers” are used to funnel air down to street level. In addition, the narrowness of the streets – which are almost always at an angle to the sun’s east-west trajectory to maximize shade – accelerates airflow through the city.

The city’s streets are laid out at angles that optimize shading. Long, narrow parks catch and cool the prevailing winds and assist in ventilating the city. With the help of environmental consultants, Norman Foster – head of the project and principal partner of architectural company Foster & Partners – estimated that by combining such approaches, they could make Masdar feel as much as 70 degrees cooler.

In an interview with The New York Times, Foster expressed concern that the visionary city would be characterized by limited social demographics. Foster masterminded the architectural and sustainable design of the city, but the government will ultimately have control over who gets to live and work in Masdar.

According to Foster, the city was intended to house a cross-section of society, from students to service workers.
“It is not about social exclusion,” Foster said, suggesting that the project had strayed from its original goal.

Despite its social limitations, Masdar is a pioneer in the field of carbon reduction, and it brings environmental sustainability to a whole new level.

“I think demonstrating projects like this is great,” Professor of Economics Bob Williams said. “The problem is that it is a case for the affluent.”

“I think it’s important we think about the unimaginable way of living and how we can recreate things,” said Williams. “It’s important to the extent that it encourages all of us to see how we can limit carbon emissions in our own lives.”

“It sounds good in many ways,” said environmental studies major Elizabeth Stapleton. “However, it’s not a model for the rest of the world to follow, considering the amount of money that needs to be put into the project.”

“Creating utopias won’t necessarily fix the problems, maybe there are better approaches to be sustainable,” added Stapleton.
Williams expressed that Masdar proves that it is possible for all of us to live more sustainably than we do now.

“It will take significant money and changes in how people interact with the environment, but I think it’s possible,” Williams said.

With Guilford’s commitment to “Going Green,” Masdar gives the Guilford community a chance to become aware of the unlimited potential that exists for achieving sustainability.

“A lot of people at Guilford are involved and interested with sustainability and that’s wonderful,” said Stapleton. “The steps we are taking here at Guilford aren’t as dramatic, but I think it’s the smaller changes that are most important for the rest of the world.”

According to The New York Times, construction on a second, larger phase has already begun. The government-run developer, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, refuses to give a completion date for the city, saying that it will grow at its own pace.

“Projects like this are great,” reiterated Williams. “It tells us what’s possible.”

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