Sustainable development is key to urban future

02 May 2019
As one of the best-known urban communities globally, Masdar City is changing the way cities are built around the world
By Yousef Baselaib, executive director of sustainable real estate at Masdar

With the UN predicting that the world’s population will increase to 9.7 billion by 2050—and with 68 per cent of those people expected to live in cities—it is vital that citizen-centric, sustainable communities are developed.

One of the biggest challenges that cities face today is how to reduce energy usage while also providing innovative cost-effective services that deliver a high, but sustainable quality of life to their residents.

At Masdar, we began tackling this challenge more than 10 years ago with the development of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. Starting with a blank canvas, our goal was to develop an innovative city that uses less energy, encourages more outdoor activity and plays a leading role in the transition towards renewable energy. To this end, one of the first milestones we completed was the launch of a 10MW solar array in 2009at the time, the largest renewable energy project in the Middle East.

Masdar City has become a leader in sustainable urban development partly through better master planning. Home to one of the largest clusters of low-carbon buildings in the world, Masdar City is fully aligned with global and local sustainability standards, such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Abu Dhabi’s Estidama ratings system, which prioritises occupant health and wellbeing, as well as reducing energy and water consumption.

READ: Masdar CEO Mohamed al-Ramahi discusses plans to increase international investments in renewables

The city’s third-party developments also observe stringent green building standards. We work with contractors and developers to share knowledge and help them to attain the required sustainability targets, thus ensuring that every aspect of the project’s lifecycle, from planning and construction to operations and maintenance, is undertaken with sustainability and the community at its core.

Some of our most recent residential developments include the Etihad Eco-Residence, a LEED Platinum-certified 500-apartment complex for Etihad Airways cabin crew, and the Leonardo Residences, the city’s first private apartment building. These citizen-centric developments offer their own private amenities, but are also fully integrated within the Masdar City community.

In April, we will be launching our latest third-party development, My City Centre Masdar, a neighbourhood mall by Majid al-Futtaim that is the first shopping centre in Abu Dhabi to achieve an Estidama 3-Pearl sustainability rating, making it one of the UAE’s most sustainable malls.

Connected transport

Meanwhile, Masdar City’s transportation strategy, which recently earned a prize in the Mobility Management category at the prestigious Road and Transport Authority’s Dubai Awards for Sustainable Transport, is central to the community. Based on a system that puts pedestrians first, it emphasises innovative, sustainable, public transportation that is supplemented with clean point-to-point services, and finally adds personal vehicles.

Masdar City became the first urban community in the region to use autonomous vehicles, thanks to its iconic personal rapid transit (PRT) system, which has carried more than two million passengers. In October 2018, the PRT system received its first Navya autonomous vehicle, a self-driving electric shuttle, and we will soon be launching a Tesla vehicle ride-share scheme.

However, the transportation strategy is only part of the overall sustainability story. This starts with neighbourhoods that provide all basic services within walking distance. It is more sustainable to walk to the store or cafe than to use an electric vehicle. This expands to a higher level of services in specific locations in the city such as schools and hotels that are accessible on bikes or with Masdar City transportation.

Community spaces

Masdar City also maximises the use of shading from trees and buildings to encourage residents to walk, cycle and enjoy a more active lifestyle throughout the year.

The city is now home to Masdar Park, a 2,500 square-metre park equipped with extensive sports facilities, and the 5.6 kilometre-long Al-Mamsha trail, which is ideal for cycling, walking and running.

Home farming

At Masdar City, we continue to explore new ways to improve sustainability and community wellbeing. One example is our smart home farming project ‘Bustani’. The exhibition, which is being showcased at our Eco-Villa prototype throughout 2019, demonstrates how people can grow their own leafy greens and produce other essential food items in their homes with the help of modern technology.

Our collaboration with French manufacturer Saint-Gobain to build its energy-efficient multi-comfort house in Masdar City is another example of our commitment to sustainable urban development. Set for completion later this year, the multi-comfort house is designed to produce more energy than it consumes through the use of high-performance materials and construction methods.

As we look towards the next 10 years and expand new partnerships, Masdar City will continue to strengthen its position as a commercially viable city that offers the highest quality of life within the lowest environmental footprint, as well as retaining our position as one of the region’s largest clusters of innovative high-tech businesses focusing on sustainable technologies, from solar renewable energy, batteries and electric mobility networks to biofuels, recycling and sustainable agriculture.

Yousef Baselaib is the executive director of sustainable real estate at Masdar

Building Future Cities_MashreqThis article is extracted from a report produced by MEED and Mashreq titled Building Future Cities. Click here to download the report

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