Monday, January 21, 2008

Unveiling "The Source"

This is some interesting news of an event that I've not really seen covered in the U.S. media: A World Future Energy Summit held in Abu Dhabi, including plans for a sustainable new-city (Breaking: TIME has brief story). I'm mostly an NPR-Air America listener and I read at least two newspapers a day, so you think there would have been something about it crammed in amongst the other Mideast reporting about who Dubya wants to attack next.

But no. I have to be Googlerted to pieces running in the UK media -- and mostly because they're all excited about Lord Foster (the architect behind The Gherkin and other notable edifices) unveiling his master plan model for the Masdar ("the source") project's showpiece Masdar City. Dubya got a sneak preview last week (you can kinda see it in the photo attached to this article), but I expect it went in one ear and out the other as usual.

Masdar mini-news wave:

I've been following Masdar City since last year, because Personal Rapid Transit is being featured as the development's internal transit system. PRT will make it possible for every location to be within 200m of transit access.

But the wider Masdar project is ambitious as well, aspiring to be zero-waste as well as zero-carbon and car-free (so high availability of transit is important). Power will be supplied photo voltaics, graywater will be used in agriculture, and green design will handle a lot of the ventilation.

This is all happening in an oil-producer nation. Do we take their word for it that this is a sincere attempt to develop alternative energy? I don't know if anyone is outright doubtful; so far environmentalist opinion is divided between supportive (World Wildlife Fund's Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud) to 'it's just a fig leaf' (Friends of the Earth's Tony Juniper).

The latter dismissal could be taken as an accusation of greenwashing. But the gestalt of Masdar gives me cause for cautious optimism.

Far from just one building or an experiment in a lab, Masdar is an entire freaking city. This means full, real-world implementation for use by people who may or not be ideologically on board with sustainable living. It will have to be as functional as any other city, meaning the systems will not just be window dressing.

The PR is clearly aimed at the West, because that's where the green movement originates. If Peak Oil happens sooner rather than later, then Masdar can be viewed as the first step in a crash product development program to maintain the UAE's economic power. What better way to hold onto your customer base than transitioning them from your old product to your new product?

I suppose from an American perspective this can be viewed as substituting foreign green-tech dependency for foreign oil dependency. But if the U.S. government isn't going to put serious funding behind a domestic version of Masdar, then environmentalists are going to have to ignore borders and welcome green-tech whatever its origin.
Masdar model

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