Recent Thinking About the Urban Future

Today, concern with sustainability (see Chapter 14) seems to be the most prominent single concern in thinking about possible urban futures. For example, the British firm Foster and Partners led by the architect Norman Foster has planned Masdar, a satellite city for Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).16 The city, on which some work has been done, would occupy about 2.3 square miles located about 13 miles southeast of Abu Dhabi, would have a resident population in the range of 45,000 to 50,000, and would also have enough economic activity that a substantial number of workers would commute to it from Abu Dhabi. Perhaps the most striking feature of the city is that it would be carbon neutral; that is, all of the energy used would be generated by nonfossil fuel means. Fresh water, for example, would be provided by a solar-powered desalinization plant. Energy for lighting, transportation, and the like would be solar and wind generated. Great attention has been paid to achieving as much cooling effect as possible from breezes and green spaces within the city. The streets would be narrow, which would minimize the surface that absorbs the sun's heat, and no motor vehicles would be allowed. The absence of motor vehicles and the high population density would make the city as pedestrian friendly as possible. Public transportation would be underground and provided by small, electrically-powered six-passenger vehicles. The vehicles would be programmed by their riders so there would be no fixed schedule and fixed route service as in a traditional bus or metro system. Foster and Partners envision the economic base of the city as being a mix of manufacturers producing environmentally friendly products and as a center for scientific research and technological innovation. The entire city would be surrounded by a wall that separates it from the desert around it, a feature that seems unusual by Western standards but apparently is desirable to the firm's client, the government of the UAE.

Will the city happen as Foster and Partners envision it? The planning for the city began in 2007 before the financial crisis, so economic conditions are one uncertainty—will sufficient capital be available and will the demand for business location there be as strong as the planners anticipate? A much larger uncertainty appears to be the present chaos in the Middle East from which the UAE may or may not be able to insulate itself. But regardless of the fate of this particular project, it illustrates some of the concerns that are paramount with those who are now thinking about the urban future.

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