Monday, February 01, 2010

Green visions in oil-rich Abu Dhabi

URBAN PLANNING. While the world’s attention has been focused on Dubai and its record-setting skyscrapers and other megalomaniac real estate ventures, with a subsequent financial crisis, the really interesting story is going on in neighbouring Abu Dhabi.
In the largest and richest of the United Arab Emirates, rulers have decided to invest their oil-money in sustainable urban development for the future.
“They’re doing 50 years of city-building in 5 years. It’s on the scale of what Napoleon III did for Paris or Catherine for St. Petersburg”, says one of the many foreign urban planners now working in Abu Dhabi in an interesting story in New Urban News.
Abu Dhabi’s forward-looking focus is not on spectacular skyscrapers, but rather on bringing together world-wide knowledge on modern urban planning with a focus on sustainable development on a human scale.
Plans for new freeways have been cancelled, putting an end a highway-fixated planning that was brought to Abu Dhabi by foreigners in the 70’s. Now a totally new transportation system with focus on streetcars, subways and other rail-traffic is being planned.
A new Capital district with old-fashioned boulevards and walkable streets will be built, as the emirate prepares to grow from the present population of 1.6 million to perhaps 3 million in the future.
In its Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 the future is outlined by the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
And there are more things going on in this oil-rich emirate, where wealth has brought a car-dominated, air-conditioned lifestyle that hardly can be called eco-friendly today. But with futuristic city-building, Abu Dhabi rulers want to change that image.
In the desert sands, Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company is building Masdar, a research facility and city that will completely run on renewable energy with the aim to be the world’s first zero-carbon and zero-waste city.
Masdar Institute of Science and Technology plans to bring together top scientists from around the world in fields like energy security, climate change and sustainable human development to bring “solutions to some of mankind’s most pressing issues”.
When the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art outside Danish capital Copenhagen last year ran the hailed exhibition “Green Architecture for the Future”, the master plan for Masdar by Foster + Partners (right) was one of the main attractions.
There are of course sceptics and only the future can tell if Masdar will reach its ambitious goals.
But the green visions of Abu Dhabi bear more promise than the flamboyant architectural exhibits of Dubai.

Shiekh Zayed Mosque, a landmark in Abu Dhabi.

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