"If environmental engineers, by gaining experience from building this wild city, become much more productive at building the next city, this starts to move from being science fiction to something Houston would adopt," says Matthew Kahn, a professor of economics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Gil Friend, CEO of Natural Logic, a sustainable-design company based in Berkeley, CA, agrees. "I see Masdar on the one hand as a playground for the rich," he says, "and on the other hand as an R&D opportunity to deploy and test out technology that, if things go well, will show up in other cities."
MIT Technology Review's look at Masdar City
The construction is the start of a vast experiment, an attempt to create the world's first car-free, zero-carbon-dioxide-emissions, zero-waste city. Due to be completed in 2016, the city is the centerpiece of the Masdar Initiative, a $15 billion investment by the government of Abu Dhabi, which is part of the United Arab Emirates.
The development of Abu Dhabi over the last few decades has reflected a frenetic effort to catch up with the developed world. Now, because of projects such as Masdar City, the emirate has a chance to race ahead.
If the Masdar project doesn't justify itself financially, it could indeed be just a green playground for the rich, an environmental theme park that is largely irrelevant for the development of sustainable technology on a broader scale. But if it is profitable, it could be a driving force for sustainable urban design. Then the oil-rich developers in the UAE and elsewhere might have a reason to build more green cities and skip constructing another ski slope in the desert. And developers worldwide will follow.