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.