The future is now for sustainable cities in the U.K., China, and U.A.E.
No cars in the land of oil.
In an ironic twist, the first city to fully turn its back on petroleum is likely to spring up in the United Arab Emirates, the oil-producing giant in the Middle East. Masdar, a carbon-neutral, zero-waste, walled metropolis now under construction adjacent to the Abu Dhabi airport, will have many innovative green technologies, but it may be most noteworthy for one thing it won’t have: gas-guzzling cars.
Nearly all of the world’s motor vehicles run on petroleum, and the environmental consequences are obvious. For example, 28 percent of carbon emissions in the United States result from the burning of 14 million barrels of oil a day for transportation, primarily in cars and small trucks. Masdar will do away with this problem. Urbanites will walk along shaded sidewalks, and if the sweltering desert heat gets to them, they will never be more than 500 feet from a public transportation network that puts traditional buses and subways to shame. Small electric vehicles, guided in part by magnets embedded in the road, will act as driverless taxicabs serving 83 stations situated throughout the roughly 2.5-square-mile city. Meanwhile, two electric rail systems will connect Masdar to the outside, carbon-polluting world.
The Masdar project was announced in 2006, and development is already in full swing; much of the financing is coming from the emirate of Abu Dhabi, which committed $15 billion. Developers have set a goal of sustaining 55,000 residents and visitors by 2013, with the first section of the city scheduled to open next year.
Future City London
An old industrial site gets a green makeover
In 2006 London produced 8 percent of the United Kingdom’s 560.6 million tons of carbon emissions, 70 percent of it from residential sources. In response, the city has developed an ambitious long-term plan known as the Mayor’s Energy Strategy, which calls for, among other things, the establishment of one zero-carbon community in each of the city’s 32 boroughs by 2010.
A prototype is planned for a three-acre area on the Royal Albert Dock. Called Gallions Park (pdf), it will be a sustainable community with at least 200 residential units. What makes this site important for other cities attempting to shrink their carbon footprint is that the dock area is land that was previously used by industry. Many upcoming eco-cities are being built on virgin land; success at Gallions Park would open other abandoned industrial sites to similar development possibilities.
While the Gallions Park development includes several earth-friendly features, such as community greenhouses, a key element of the zero-carbon strategy will be a combined heat and power (CHP) plant to generate electricity and provide hot water. The CHP plant will use biomass, such as wood, for fuel. The community’s buildings will also create renewable energy through roof-mounted wind turbines and photovoltaic panels that convert light into electricity.
A budget has not yet been released by the developer, but the planning application for Gallions Park was filed in July, and construction is expected to begin by early 2009.
Future City Dongtan
China watches over every drop of water
On a small, thinly populated island about 14 miles off the coast of Shanghai, a city is rising that could spell salvation for the 1 billion people expected to live in China’s urban areas by 2045. Like several other planned cities, Dongtan will showcase an array of eco-friendly technologies such as wind power and zero-emission vehicles, but its most important innovation may be that it is designed to consume 43 percent less water than a conventional city. If Dongtan succeeds, many of its technologies will be employed in other cities in China.
Access to water has become a critical issue for much of the world. The United Nations estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in regions where potable water is scarce. The problem is particularly urgent in China, where major rivers (including the Yangtze, which feeds into Shanghai) are heavily polluted. Dongtan aims to reduce its water needs by using technologies such as green roofs—building tops covered with plants—to capture and filter rainwater and by recycling sewage and other waste to fertilize and irrigate nearby farms.
Although Dongtan is in the earliest stages of construction, Arup, the U.K. design and engineering firm hired by the Chinese government to oversee its development, says that as many as 5,000 people will be living there by 2010. There have been delays and setbacks—originally Arup anticipated up to 10,000 settlers by 2010—but the firm says the city is still on track to have as many as 500,000 residents by 2050.
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