Whatever happened to Abu Dhabi’s carbon neutral city?

Expectation vs reality. An architectural rendering of Masdar City (L), alongside the reality in 2012, four years into development (R). Images: Foster + Partners; Jan Seifert via Flickr.

Around 10 miles from downtown Abu Dhabi, something is very slowly rising from the desert. Masdar City, designed by British architectural firm Foster and Partners and subsidised with billions of dollars from the Emirate’s government, is an attempt to create a completely carbon-neutral city. And a recent piece on the Smithsonian’s website makes the results so far sound pretty impressive:

"Nearly all of the electricity in the current phase comes from a massive 87,777-panel, 10-megawatt solar plant along with building-mounted solar panels, and demand is kept in check by an impressive array of design features that minimize the need for air conditioning despite the desert locale.

“The site is higher than the surrounding land to catch breezes off the Persian Gulf; the short streets are narrow and laid out to maximize shade all day long; building glass is shielded by decorative terracotta grills; and a 45-meter wind tower pulls breezes from above and pushes them through the streets to create a cooling effect. The result: temperatures that the developers claim are generally 15 degrees cooler than the desert."

The city will also be almost entirely walkable or bikeable, and will aim to recycle 80 per cent of its waste water. To the right, you can see a chunk of the city's desert solar farm.

If this all sounds a bit too good to be true, there might be a very good reason. Six years into development, the city is still not even close to completion: just 15 per cent (1m square metres) of the city has been built, and the Smithsonian lists the completion date as “2025 (if at all)”.

The city is some way off its target number of residents (40,000, plus 50,000 commuters), too. This video, opening with a shot of the city’s slogan, “The city of possibilities”, shows that so far, it’s pretty much empty:

Credit: QUARTIER LIBRE on Vimeo.

As such, claims about “keeping demand in check”, or even the claimed carbon-neutrality, are yet to be road-tested.

A few businesses (General Electric; Mistubishi) have moved in. But, as it stands, the city is still more of a government-funded guinea pig than a functional, economically-viable city. We’ll check back in another six years.

 
 
 
 

Podcast: The Great Northern Rail Crisis

Manchester Victoria station during a 2017 strike. Image: Getty.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it reading the news from London, but the north of England’s railway network is in a bit of a mess. Delayed electrification work, a new timetable, mass cancellations, the whole shebang.

To explain how bad things are, and how they got that way, I’m joined by Jen Williams, political and social affairs editor for the Manchester Evening News. She tells me why nobody seems sure who’s to blame for this mess, and whether there’s any realistic chance of anyone tidying it up any time soon. All that, and we talk about Andy Burnham, too.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Skylines is supported by 100 Resilient Cities. Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, 100RC is dedicated to helping cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.