Sustainability

Stephen Bailey
Will the World’s First Zero-Carbon City Be a Tourist Attraction?
Will the World’s First Zero-Carbon City Be a Tourist Attraction?
Stephen Bailey

The United Arab Emirates may seem an unlikely place to build the world’s first zero-carbon city, but Masdar City is on its way to achieving just that. The emirate of Abu Dhabi hopes it will be a major attraction. Is it somewhere you would travel to? 

The Masdar project started in 2006 and is due to be completed in 2025, with home for 50,000 people and 1500 businesses. 

It’s powered by a giant solar farm, with some 87,777 solar panels. Lead architect Gerard Evenden commented:

“When we started nobody had looked at projects on this scale. You realise it’s much more efficient to build one solar field in the middle of the desert, so you can make sure everything is running at its peak, rather than putting solar panels on every building in the city.”

Gerard Evenden

The city doesn’t even have electric switches or water taps. Motion sensors will perform these tasks, saving enormously on power use (provided it works).

A small part of the giant solar farm

 A city in the desert doesn’t sound too attractive, but then again, Dubai is a city in the desert and it’s in the world’s top five visited cities. 

Masdar’s developers have built a 50-metre-high wind tower which sucks up cool air and releases it onto the city’s streets. This hopes to keep street-level temperatures at 15 – 20 °C in the desert. Visitors can walk into the wind tower, which is based on traditional Middle Eastern architecture, and experience a dramatic drop in temperature. 

Reducing the temperature would be a big appeal in the height of summer, when holidaymakers want to escape Dubai or Abu Dhabi for the day. In addition, Masdar is surrounded by terracotta walls, isolating it from the hot winds. 

Masdar Institute of Science and Technology

But how do you visit a zero-carbon city? Surely, every visit will involve creating a carbon footprint? Valencia recently measured the carbon footprint of all its visitors and found that 81% was generated by travelling to the city. 

Known as “The City of Future,” at least Masdar is only a ten-minute drive from Abu Dhabi International Airport, and only 40 minutes from Dubai. Although the city isn’t finished, tourism in Masdar is already open for business. 

A full-day tour includes a visit to some of the eco-friendly houses and the water control system, which cleverly extracts humidity and converts it to clean drinking water. The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology campus is another prominent attraction, with the city’s most iconic buildings and a learning journey through the principles of renewable energy. 

Visitors have to leave their vehicles at a giant parking lot at the city entrance and must either walk or use the Personal Rapid Transit system to get around. Electric buggies and electric bicycles are also permitted. 

The Personal Rapid Transit system

As yet there are no hotels, so visitors can only come for the day from Sunday to Thursday. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants open for business, where the focus is on organic produce. 

Despite all the eco developments, Masdar has experienced many problems. Not least, trying to persuade Emiratis to move there, despite many campaigns (they’re offering free lifetime delivery of organic fruit and vegetables to anybody who buys a property). 

So are visitors to Masdar simply creating a huge carbon footprint to travel to a carbon-zero attraction for a 60-90 minute tour? If there are no residents, is Masdar just another big theme park, albeit one based on eco-credentials and sustainability rather than cheap rides? 

Is Masdar another overly ambitious Emirate project that wins a lot of global acclaim but fails to really deliver? Is it a repeat of the sinking World Islands project in Dubai, or will it succeed like the Palm Jumeirah? 

Answers to those questions are yet to come. One thing is for certain, when the UAE does something so eye-catching and ambitious, it’s always going to rouse curiosity in visitors from around the world. 

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