Cities

Stillborn Utopia

Masdar City is an $18 billion attempt to build a zero-carbon community on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. It's empty.

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Masdar
Masdar City: Coming Soon

The city in the video seems abandoned. As a camera pans through plazas, streets, and buildings, just a handful of people are visible. Activity is promised but deferred: Across the landscape, posters declare that one enterprise or another is "Opening Soon."

The place is Masdar City, an $18 billion attempt to build a zero-carbon community on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. The video was made by Julien Eymeri for Fast Company. Eymeri writes that while Masdar was "supposed to attract more than 50,000 people and almost as many commuters," few businesses have arrived since the arcology opened its doors four years ago. The only residents are some students at the Masdar Institute.

In the comments below Eymeri's account, some readers protest that the video was made while the institute wasn't in session, bringing the visible population down. But a city of commuters isn't exactly a model for zero-carbon living—and, more important, a city that empties when a single institution isn't operating is a city that's already dead. Masdar recalls Jane Jacobs' description, in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, of a commercial district that falls into a "deathlike stillness…after five-thirty and all day Saturday and Sunday." And in this case, the stillness is intensified by the pseudo-city's desert location.

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  4. In fairness, a lot of the massive construction projects in the UAE are empty.

    1. My friend Bill Sarubbi was a financial analyst for the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. According to him, if he told them, “We’re going to put your money in a shredder,” they would nod acceptingly.

      1. Opportunity alert!

    2. Also, isn’t an attempt to build a zero carbon community that is completely empty sort of Mission Accomplished?

  5. Well, if you don’t have any people, you don’t have any problems.

  6. Sounds like they got their wish. Given that humans are carbon-based life forms, why would you want any in a carbon free city?

  7. Wow. A city not even the homeless inhabit.

    1. A perfect hometown for agoraphobics.

  8. How many of these massive, hyperplanned fiascos will have to be built before the Planner types admit they do not, and never have, know what the hell people wanted?

    1. Everything is planned. But actors in markets have limited resources and thus tend to plan better or fail.

    2. People want living with little carbon consumption. Look at how high rents are in cities. Look at how expensive seaside, florida is. Planners hate density, however, so the demand cannot be relieved.

    3. Check out a site called englishrussiadotcom, it is images and articles about life in Russia, and it shows a lot of abandoned projects from the Soviet Union. It’s amazing how much was spent, how many man hours worked, and now it all stands empty and rotting.

  9. Paul Krugman: “If only we had more of these cities.”

  10. Speaking of urban-utopian green-tarded hipster disasters…

    Grow Organic! Grow Local! Shop in the Farmer’s Market! Don’t Contribute to “Big Agriculture! = Give Your Children Lead Poisoning

    “Herbs and vegetables grown in New York City community gardens are loaded with lead and other toxic metals, a startling state study shows.

    Tainted vegetables ? some sold in city markets ? were found in five of seven plots tested, according to data obtained from the study by The Post through the Freedom of Information Law.

    Most of the root vegetables sampled far exceeded safe thresholds for lead, with the most toxic being a carrot at the Hart to Hart community garden in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

    It contained 1.95 parts per million of the toxic metal ? nearly 20 times the level considered safe, according to state Health Department data.

    “If they don’t know what the level of lead is in the garden, it would be advisable not to grow root crops,” said study co-author Murray McBride, a Cornell University professor of soil chemistry.

    Lead in some herbs ? for which there is no available safety standard ? was off the charts.

    Once in the body, lead can remain for 30 years, causing permanent learning disabilities, behavioral issues, hearing problems, heart disease, kidney disease, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and death.”

    YAY HIPSTERS!!

    1. “a startling state study shows.”

      Shocking!
      I wonder who was really surprised? I mean, did anyone measure the level of dog pee?

      1. FWIW – people have noted that urban gardens suffer from soil-contamination issues for over a decade+. Just because something is well-understood by people in the actual business of Agriculture does not mean it can not be steadfastly ignored for a decade+ of a boom in ‘farmer’s market’ sales in brooklyn/manhattan, where people can sell “Locally Grown” produce at premiums to actually far-higher quality foodstuff at the local store.

        The fact that ‘herbs’ were of such high lead-concentrations may come as a surprise to some. Those are the sorts of things that your local artisinal hipster joints love to tout as being employed in their edibles. Maybe this year, when Brooklyn Hipsters Hayden, Zane, and Molly go back home to Flyoverburbia for Thanksgiving, they won’t be bringing some of their ‘locally sourced’ goodies to share, just to avoid the uncomfortable dinner convo.

        1. Lead? I want histoplasmosis to prove the pigeon guano is truly unprocessed “local and organic”.

    2. This is why we need to go full retard solar!

    3. Jesse Walker ?@notjessewalker 55m55 minutes ago
      @reidtsmith SIGNS. SIGNS. EVERYWHERE SIGNS. BLOCKING OUT THE SCENERY. BREAKING MY MIND.

      Hooray for Jesse Walker!

    4. lead in the body is displaced by calcium. it only stays in your body for years if you don’t drink milk

      1. What if I drink organic local milk?

  11. No wonder. No Jews.

  12. The New York Times on Masdar City in 2010:

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates ? Back in 2007, when the government here announced its plan for “the world’s first zero-carbon city” on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, many Westerners dismissed it as a gimmick ? a faddish follow-up to neighboring Dubai’s half-mile-high tower in the desert and archipelago of man-made islands in the shape of palm trees.

    Well, those early assessments turned out to be wrong. By this past week, as people began moving into the first section of the project to be completed ? a 3 ?-acre zone surrounding a sustainability-oriented research institute ? it was clear that Masdar is something more daring and more noxious.

    What does the New York Times find to be “noxious”? Anyone? Anyone?

    But his design also reflects the gated-community mentality that has been spreading like a cancer around the globe for decades. Its utopian purity, and its isolation from the life of the real city next door, are grounded in the belief ? accepted by most people today, it seems ? that the only way to create a truly harmonious community, green or otherwise, is to cut it off from the world at large.

    Not that it simply won’t… fucking… work.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09…..d=all&_r=0

    1. They don’t like gated communities because people within them might start to think they can set their own standards or do things their own way.

      Creating a low carbon/green whatever enclave means that you think you’re allowed to do things without extensive central management. Also, it (in their mind) means you’re implicitly approving of the areas surrounding it NOT being environmentally friendly.

      1. You forgot the racial component. Gated enclaves aren’t diverse and thus aren’t progressive.

  13. that the only way to create a truly harmonious community, green or otherwise, is to cut it off from the world at large.

    You know where I go to interact with the world at large? Work, shopping centers, restaurants, and the like. Not home.

    1. But, you’ll miss your teachable moment!

  14. if the goal is a zero carbon emission city then goal accomplished.

    Make no mistake, many proggies would like to see major cities resemble this one

    1. I would say the exact opposite. The energy consumption heavy, sprawling American suburb is a product of progressive central planning.

      Progressives loved the car. It was symbol of modernity, of the endless, boundless future. The ICC regulated the railroads to death, and progressive mayors forced street car lines to subsidize autos. Price controls also destroyed the street car.

      FDR’s FHA financed thousands of mortgages that allowed whites to move into suburbs and abandon cities, as well as highways. Eisenhower’s highways wrecked the city and made long car trips to work affordable.

      Inspired by rationalist European planners like Le Corbusier, progressives like Bob Moses undertook massive urban renewal programs in the 60’s that bulldozed entire dense, compact districts with tiny roads and replaced them far apart projects separated by wide streets.

      Fannie and Freddie wanted to turn America into a nation of owners of big, expensive houses. The homes would be hooked to sewer lines, and the roads in suburbs would be paid for, by federal grants. The home owner interest deduction further subsidized suburban living.

      Meanwhile, high density housing was made illegal across America. Zoning segregated homes from businesses. Free off-street parking mandates for businesses helped car owners, who needed the help because free curb side parking made parking unavailbale.

      1. Very insightful post. It was, of course, a little bit more intricate than your short version. For instance, Ike wanted the interstate highway system because he’d seen the trouble the Germans had moving armies between the Western and Eastern fronts. Was this the fear of a “progressive,” or just a military mind with lots of money to spend? Things are complicated. And you totally forgot the progressives biggest success and failure of all: public schools.

        1. *For instance, Ike wanted the interstate highway system because he’d seen the trouble the Germans had moving armies between the Western and Eastern fronts.*

          No, he saw the trouble they DIDN’T have due to the Nazis Autobahns.

          1. That only worked as far as Germany and the limited extent they expanded into neighboring countries, not all the way into Russia and France. Hence, I think his point stands.

      2. Not sure about your comment that high density housing was made illegal across America. Here in Silicon Valley, San Jose is on a massive tear at high density housing, especially along light rail routes.

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  16. Listen, if they want this place to succeed, they need to open it to a class of undesirables who have no where else to live. Like the community of pedophiles in Arrested Development.

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  19. What is the point of attacking this free market enterprise??? If anything I would think libertarians would want to keep the failure of this development VERY quite as it seems to flatly contradict certain libertarian principles, most specifically:

    a) There is a free market to solution to any perceived problem.

    b) The media has people so brainwashed about carbon emissions that they are drenched in fear.

    Either people don’t perceive there is a problem or the free enterprise solution would be wildly popular.

    The only thing that this proves is that there really is no tangible global warming alarmism.

    1. I assume you’re just trolling, but for the record: The company leading this “free market enterprise” is owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.

      Needless to say, even if this were an entirely private project, none of your points would follow. I do not believe that people are “so brainwashed about carbon emissions that they are drenched in fear.” And part of the point of the free market is to allow ill-conceived projects to fail.

    2. a) This is not a free market solution. Even if you take out the fact that the company that did this was owned by the state, it was still conceived as a paean to an idea, not a reaction to market signals. There was no demand in the immediate area for this city.
      b) the desire to fight against irrational fear by the media – whether real or imaginary -= is not in and of itself a libertarian principle.

  20. Arcology…

    Hey, it worked in Sim City 2000!

    1. And Shadowrun.

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