One thing we have learnt this week – eco town

1024px-Masdar_PRT_(3)_croppedMasdar an eco town?  I was going to write about the ongoing Hinkley C saga but found this story again, something I’d forgotten about.  Is Masdar an eco town or an eco ghost town?  When UAE decided to build this in 2006 it was supposed to be the worlds first eco town or even city with 50,000 residents and 40,000 people commuting in.  Greenhouse gas emissions were supposed to be zero and world famous architects such as Richard Foster were brought in to design eco friendly buildings and layout.  The project was Abu Dhabi’s (very successful) attempt to diversify out of oil.

10 years on though only 5% has been built.  Very few businesses have any kind of real presence there (only the Internal Renewable Energy agency and Siemens) and the town is a long way off being self sufficient in energy and may never be.   The electric transport system of electric podcars running on rails (above) seems to have been largely scrapped and apparently only 300 students actually live in the place.

What’s gone wrong and can we learn any lessons here?  Part of the problem with Masdar to be fair is the 2008 global crash.  The UK government is planning more than one eco town in England.  The first issue is putting something new where there is no employment is always difficult.  New towns were built after the war in England and Scotland and possibly only the much derided Milton Keynes has been a success in terms of balancing employment and residents.  Even there I can think of no major industries or employers.  Cumbernauld in Scotland is probably more of a commuter town for Glasgow.  The second tension is do you build the infrastructure first or after demand has appeared when people and businesses arrive?  It makes sense to build it first, but it can look stupid when demand does not materialise.

The proposed eco town s in England are a way of building on green field sites so as to minimise opposition.  The problem of where people work and how they get there will be a very difficult one to solve.  They will probably be no more “eco” than Masdar, but people will at least liver there.


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