MIT-Affiliated Research Center Builds an Energy-Saving City
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 resources.
The 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 post-petroleum 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 at nytimes.com/dotearth.
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.