Monday, November 29, 2010

Masdar City's first steps

Masdar City -- the ambitious United Arab Emirates eco-city project -- inaugurated its first phase last week.

Abu Dhabi monarch Mohammed al Nahyan was there to preside over the unveiling of the Masdar Institute of Science & Technology, the first fruits of his investment.

It's important to remember that about this display of traditional Arab technology wedded to modern technologies. MIST is showing the key energy sustainability features of the Masdar vision: narrow shaded streets, curved walls, wind towers, etc. New low-energy air conditioning are being tried, as is the Personal Rapid Transit (small  pod vehicles, mass transit in aggregate, that only move when needed).

But as previously reported,
one of the original reasons for building Masdar City -- demonstrating how Masdar-developed green technologies work when applied on a citywide scale -- has been peeled off as a result of the new austerity brought about by the global recession. The PRT's underground network isn't going to be built-out beyond its current alignment, and future surface streets are going to be widened to accommodate alt-power automobiles.  Will buildings in future phases of Masdar be required to use the same techniques and technologies used in MIST? There are no guarantees.

By scaling back the goals of Masdar City, the Masdar project has lost one of the great perceived advantages -- that it could afford to take risks.

From now on Masdar City is a showroom. If you're a mayor, energy minister or CEO wanting to be photographed looking interested in cutting-edge green tech that actually works, Masdar is going to be on your junket itinerary. They'll sell you a green HVAC system, a rooftop solar system, and their other off the shelf products -- even a PRT.

But what if you want real-world data about how those systems work on an urban scale? How does a city function socially and economically if entirely pedestrian-priority? What balance of green sources do cities need to meet power requirements?  Masdar won't be able to tell you for sure; it doesn't solve a critical problem of the R&D cycle -- when it comes to innovation, the risk averse want 'someone else' to be the early adopter. 

In the industrialized west, the risk averse are the ones making critical urban planning and infrastructure decisions. Masdar must have understood this about their likely customer base, right?


Shaded street on display inside MIST


PRT station underneath MIST

Photos: Flickr, Trevor.Patt 


  1. Masdar city is a total failure.

    The emperor has no clothes. Let's move on to real projects.

  2. If you mean that Masdar has given up on even the dream of ultimately realizing a completely pedestrian-priority eco-city, then yes -- it is a total failure. I can forgive failure in attempting to achieve a carbon neutral zero waste city, but Masdar has shed that basic principle at the outset. All of its vision is open to compromise.