Special Reports
Car-Free, Solar City in Gulf Could Set a New Standard for Green Design

By Andrew C. Revkin
New York Times
February 5, 2008

In an ever more crowded world facing environmental limits, the push is on to
create entire communities with reduced needs for energy, water, land and other

Foster + PartnersThe latest effort comes not in some green hub like Portland,
Ore., but in the Persian Gulf, fueled as much by oil wealth — and the need to
find postpetroleum business models — as environmental zeal.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for Saturday for Masdar City, a nearly
self-contained mini-municipality designed for up to 50,000 people rising from
the desert next to Abu Dhabi’s international airport and intended as a hub for
academic and corporate research on nonpolluting energy technologies.
The 2.3-square-mile community, set behind walls to divert hot desert winds and
airport noise, will be car free, according to the design by Foster + Partners,
the London firm that has become a leading practitioner of energy-saving architecture.

The community, slightly smaller than the historic district of Venice, will have
similar narrow pedestrian streets, but shaded by canopies made of photovoltaic
panels. It will produce all of its own energy from sunlight.

Water will flow from a solar-powered seawater-desalinization plant. Produce will
come from nearby greenhouses, and all waste will be composted or otherwise
recycled, said Khaled Awad, property manager for the project.

The first phase, to be completed over the next two years, will be construction
of the Masdar Institute, a graduate-level academic research center associated
with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Readers can see a simulated video tour of the city and post comments on the Dot Earth blog.

Attempts at such green communities have had mixed results. Arcosanti, the
ecotopian town in the Arizona desert, was started three decades ago. Still a
work in progress, it is now being encroached on by Phoenix’s suburban expansion.
China, with help from American partners, has embarked on building instant rural
communities and cities designed to limit environmental impacts, but recent
reports have disclosed many problems.

Still, environmental campaigners appear enthusiastic about Masdar City, which is
part of a planned $15 billion investment in new energy technologies by Abu Dhabi.

At an international energy conference in that city last month, Jean-Paul
Jeanrenaud, director of the One Planet Living initiative of the environmental
group WWF International (known in North America as the World Wildlife Fund),
said independent monitoring would help ensure that the project lived up to its


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