During World War II, the Manhattan Project brought together many of the world’s greatest minds and focused their energies on producing an end to what was, at the time, humankind’s greatest threat. Their collective effort created the first nuclear weapons, an endeavor which, for better or worse, changed the course of history in an astounding way. Today, a similar gathering of experts is taking place in Abu Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates, but not in order to design weapons.
The Masdar Initiative, launched in April 2006, is a collective effort to combat the many faces of our current ecological dilemma. The major goal of the Masdar Initiative is the creation of a zero-waste, zero-pollution city, or “Special Free Zone” within Abu Dubai, covering six-kilometers and offering facilities and laboratories which, upon opening in 2009, may become the worldwide center for sustainable energy research and development.
Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the initiative will utilize the sun’s energy and shade to their optimal capacities. Solar panels on around 80 percent of the rooftops and a large solar power plant will serve as the city’s main energy sources. Wind towers will help to flush out the desert heat, restrictions on building height (no more than 5 stories) and narrow roads will help keep the ground level cool for the city’s 50,000 inhabitants. Staying true to its zero-pollution promise, Masdar will have no cars, opting instead for light railways to transport its citizens.
Masdar, which means “the source” in Arabic, will be an incredible leap forward for the richest city in the world. Of course, considering that Abu Dubai’s wealth is based chiefly on petroleum exports, the Masdar Initiative strikes as a contrary gesture to the current economic model. In the short run this will continue to be the case, but efforts like Masdar are necessary steps toward a sustainable future, when renewable energy alternatives cease to be alternatives, and become primary solutions.