Masdar City Focuses on Sustainability but Excludes the Poor

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MADSAR CITY, Abu Dhabi — Sustainability has been the focus of prototypical eco-cities across the globe. Curitiba, Brazil, Auroville, India and Frieburg, Germany are all built on principles promoting environmental sustainability. They have yet to manage a successful strategy for zero carbon emissions, but others are copying and innovating their experimental blueprints.

One of the latest is Masdar City. Commissioned by the emirate of Abu Dhabi and designed by Foster + Partners, Masdar is already home to students of the Masdar Institute. It expects to welcome its first permanent residents in 2025. Currently, it is one of the most ambitious sustainability projects the world has ever witnessed.

What makes it so sustainable?

All Masdar City’s energy is renewable. The majority comes from nearby photovoltaic plants. On-site solar panels provide as much as 20 percent of its energy.

Every aspect of the design is purposeful. The entire city is raised on a platform to take advantage of a natural breeze. A wind tower, taller yet, catches air at high elevations and directs it to the main square. All buildings are oriented to best shield their inhabitants from the heat of the sun.

Homes will be equipped with water meters and the most efficient of appliances. 100 percent of the landscaping will be sustained by wastewater. The landscaping will also be of the desert-bloom variety: nothing in Masdar City uses more water than necessary, and as a result, the city uses 60 percent less than the average city of its size.

The aforementioned on-site solar panels won’t just generate energy, they will provide shade to pedestrians in the street. Walking is applauded, so streets are meant to look especially enticing to pedestrians. Green transportation is one of the project’s main goals. Thus, the implementation of electric buses run on a loop is scheduled.

Developers are also considering the use of personal electric vehicles.

There are hundreds of details that could be described. Still, the prospect of a city like this, a city with no carbon emissions, is something to be eagerly anticipated.

But if the goals are met, what implications will it have on a global scale? What implication will it have for poverty?

It is important not to disparage the achievements being made. They are an incredible display of human innovation and should be lauded. But there are variables and effects we should be aware of.

Because the ultimate goal is a ‘green city,’ a completely self-sustained urban center, not much attention has been paid to the socioeconomic consequences of the city’s construction.

Looking at the sponsorship of ecocities like Masdar City, you will see that the cities are backed by governments that have a less-questioned command of tax funds. Masdar City and China’s Tianjin follow this pattern. Imagine the debate that would be sparked in the United States if the government announced the construction of a $19 billion eco-haven.

Among democratic governments, strong public support is needed in order for ecocities to get a green light. However, after approval, challenges arise when determining the occupants of the new city. How does a government decide which members of society reside in the city?  Masdar City is meant to be a center for green-tech innovation. The ideal candidates are students, researchers, engineers and businessmen.

People of the working class may find themselves excluded.

A ‘green jobs only, high-education preferred’ mentality will lend the city a certain exclusivity. While self-sufficiency is commendable in any society, cutting off poorer communities from high-income areas will only widen the socioeconomic gap.

The ecological benefits of modeling future cities on Masdar City could be incalculable. However, while working to protect our beautiful world, let us be wary of the effects such cities will have on the equality experienced by its people.

Olivia Kostreva

Sources: Masdar City FAQ, United Nations, Stanford University
Photo: Skyscraper City

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