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Masdar City Project and Creative Problem Solving Essay


Introduction

Masdar City is an innovative urban project to construct an ecological, fully sustainable city in the Abu Dhabi. It is meant to be a forward-thinking initiative with architectural and technological developments that pioneer the “greenprint” for the urbanization through reducing waste and relying on renewable energy. The city houses organizations and companies such as the Masdar Institute and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) that promote environmental sustainability (Masdar, 2017b).

The project is developed by Masdar based in UAE. Masdar City is owned by Mubadala Investment Company. It is primarily controlled by the Abu Dhabi government. The company is an international corporation as well as a regional leader in renewable energy and sustainable urban development. Masdar seeks to be a primary industry player in transitioning of UAE towards a technological and information-based economy (Masdar, 2017a).

The purpose of this report is to identify, analyze, and propose solutions to a complex problem that Masdar is experiencing in the development of the Masdar City project. The main issue identified in the project is the slow expansion and population growth of the city, primarily caused by its lackluster infrastructure and the failure to achieve anywhere near the 100 percent renewable energy power supply that was heavily advertised. The urban development concepts and management are inconsistent and causing Masdar City to be labeled as a “green ghost town” since the innovative nature of the project has experienced setbacks (Liu, 2018).

It is necessary for Masdar and the Abu Dhabi government to form a realistic, comprehensible, and competent management plan for the evolution and promotion of Masdar City as a sustainable urban project that justifies the multibillion-dollar investments made into it over the last decade.

The Analysis of the Problem

When the project was announced by the Abu Dhabi government in 2008, it was considered almost utopian. Masdar City was planned to be the first urban development without any negative environmental aspects, having nearly untraceable amounts of waste and carbon emissions. Furthermore, it promised completely renewable energy and the use of recycled water. From its initial stages, the project had two major concerns, its excessive cost and the social culture of the UAE that had been engulfed in lavish, high-waste (from an environmental perspective) lifestyles.

However, the soaring prices of oil guaranteed to fund for Masdar City, while UAE leadership sought to implement various initiatives to diversify the country’s economy, focusing on innovative technological developments. Nevertheless, the economic and global climate has drastically shifted the dimensions affecting the city (McArdle, 2018). This led to the utopian dream meeting the harsh realities of the real world that drastically changed the dynamics of urban development in Masdar City.

The first part of the issue is that the ecological sustainability targets of the city proved to be unachievable. In the context of eco-modernization, the Masdar City project serves as a clear example of where policy agendas have been tailored to socio-economic targets and sustainability, sacrificing its environmental goals. Urbanization with the goal of economic growth is meant to preserve political institutions and follow imperatives set by the ruling elite which can interpret sustainability in a manner that benefits the government (Cugurullo, 2015). While Masdar City does have significant and large-scale renewable energy sources, the technology and resources to achieve 100 percent renewable energy reliance are not available. The prognosis has shifted towards reaching 50 percent renewable power by 2030 (Liu, 2018).

The constantly shifting dynamics of development and construction are a critical issue for Masdar City. The master plan has undergone three variations in four years, leaving policymakers, developers, and residents desynchronized about the future of the city. This has partially affected infrastructure, with the electrical personal transit system having only two stations out of a planned 1,500 (McArdle, 2018). Meanwhile, the city has only constructed a fraction of the real estate that was initially planned. Unlike traditional urban locations that form around specific infrastructure, Masdar City has to create its own, an aspect hindered by funding issues and lack of interest from potential residents and investors alike.

These facts lead to the final stage of the problem, which is a severe lack of population in the city. It was developed with a plan for a population of 50,000 people and approximately daily 40,000 commuters (Cugurullo, 2015). However, the current population consists of 3,500 workers and students, with 1,300 residing in the city limits (Liu, 2018). The critical backbone and driving force of any urban city or business, its human capital, is missing. As a large percentage of the population consists of expatriates, the economic and social benefits of the core UAE population are causing the city to falter as an urban environment.

Creative Ideas for Problem Solving

In the modern realities of urban development, organizations face various challenges due to diminishing resources and rapidly shrinking budgets. Furthermore, public acceptance and participation can rarely be predicted. Solutions to urban problems require the optimized use of resources and collaboration amongst the private and public sectors of the economy. Beyond being an ecologically sustainable area, Masdar City must also consider its economic sustainability.

A lack of clear decision-making processes and cost-effective mechanisms for implementing solutions to scale is often the biggest flaw in approaching systemic problems within an urban environment (CityLab, n.d.). Therefore, the following solutions must consider and encompass these concepts within the boundaries of their procedural implementation. Although the complex problem described above has been created by a combination of stakeholders and global influences, Masdar as a company is responsible for oversight of the city’s development and could critically determine solutions to revitalize the project.

Solution I

The ecological sustainability theme of the city must be realigned. It should divert from the utopian perspective of clean energy and utilize the full extent of existing technologies and resources. It is impossible for an urban area in a developed country, especially so fossil-fuel reliant as UAE, to remain completely carbon-free. Therefore, there should be a shift of focus towards carbon neutrality with perspectives of renewable green energy. Masdar City’s large solar arrays are providing a significant amount of electricity demands (considering its current population and needs). It would be a vital solution to convert the business model of Masdar City into a commercial enterprise, that produces a profit. The system can become a synergy of urban, commercial, and technological development.

The concept of economic sustainability supports the approach to maintaining the business aspect of Masdar City. If the project does not bring revenue, it is not sustainable in the long-term. A Masdar manager mentioned that the city is “not an environmental crusade” because the development and implementation of eco-technologies are tremendously expensive (McArdle, 2015, par. 10). Therefore, if there is no profit to the venture, the government will eventually abandon the project due to a lack of funding, eliminating a vital real-life arena to test green technology.

Abu Dhabi maintains an extremely high carbon and waste pollution rates per capita, which warrants for drastic measures such as the Masdar City initiative. However, the technocratic plan of adoption and ecological development is neither applicable nor characteristic of any urban environment on the planet. Furthermore, the ‘green’ approach must be approached with competency. For example, a city with no diesel cars will still have large fleets of vehicles parked outside from commuters or the water desalinated in large factories to avoid waste will result in pollution to nearby water sources (Jensen, 2014). This suggests that the ecological development of the city should be adopted with proven technologies that are truly efficient, practical, and environmentally-friendly.

Solution II

Infrastructure development and expansion can be resolved by attracting private investors and companies which will be willing to share construction and upkeep costs. Masdar City has been partially successful in doing so, as its largest facilities belong to organizations such as IRENA and Siemens, which also maintain relatively large workforces in the city. The buildings are insulated and energy efficiency of up to 75% solar-powered (Abdelhamid, 2016). The process of attracting companies that will benefit from the concept of Masdar City should be more extensive. The process of research for green technology focuses on adopting technological breakthroughs into urban practices. Therefore, Masdar is considered a laboratory where stakeholders can develop, test, and potentially commercialize environmentally friendly technology (Cugurullo, 2015).

Beyond, facilities, and real estate, a similar principle can apply to transportation, entertainment, and finance as more companies emerge interested in the eco-friendly approach to practically all aspects of human society. Large corporations such as Tesla, as well as start-ups with worthwhile ideas, can be attracted through monetary and technological benefits offered by the Abu Dhabi government. Their investment, innovation, and human capital will inherently lead to more efficient and competent development of Masdar City’s infrastructure and networks.

Masdar can take heed from successful examples of technology-centered locations such as California’s Silicon Valley. Although, not a traditional city (neither is Masdar City), it has transformed from an underdeveloped region to a technological powerhouse that maintains the necessary infrastructure as a sustainable city would, including green technology. Prosperous regions maintain a combination of infrastructure which offers public goods, specialized labor and input providers, strong competition, and open information available to the industry.

Silicon Valley, from the early days of its inception, has maintained the infrastructure that is meant to support private firms and mitigate liabilities for any new arrivals (Kenney, 2017). This model can be ultimately successful in Masdar City if the initial support is provided for companies to arrive. However, once settled, most firms begin to develop a wide array of public infrastructure for its functions and workforce.

Solution III

While research projects and private firms will continue to attract individuals to Masdar City, the population levels considered by the project plan will not be reached without significant interventions. Masdar must actively promote the city based on the principles on which it was developed. These include the high quality of life within a vibrant urban realm. Furthermore, the city is optimally oriented, and its design is based on traditional Arabic architecture with a low rise and high-density construction which helps to create low-energy environments. Finally, the city is fully integrated and pedestrian-friendly (TheFutureBuild, n.d.).

The Masdar City project was met with significant enthusiasm when announced, including core residents of Abu Dhabi. It may be viable to address other issues such as infrastructure and begin a widespread marketing campaign to attract migrants to the city. A wide array of UAE nationals and expatriates from developed countries have voiced a desire to seek residency in Masdar City once the infrastructure and the ecological footprint is normalized. They view living there as part of their contribution to protecting the environment.

Overall, there should be a different approach to managing the city. As a government-owned project and corporation, in a relatively authoritarian country, Masdar is not inherently transparent in its actions. The power structure is geared towards maintaining secrecy and biased media coverage, which leads to public mistrust. Furthermore, Masdar and its partners have effectively copyrighted the design concept for the city, which is unconventional and unprecedented (Jensen, 2014).

Therefore, it is not simple to gain access to or residency in the city. Initiatives should be made to attract those residents interested in the project. Utilizing the scientific and technological aspects, the company can offer opportunities for residency for prospective students, scientists, and businessmen which will contribute greatly to the city’s future (Graves, 2016).

Conclusion

Masdar City is an innovative, ecological urban project developed by the Masdar corporation with the Abu Dhabi government in control. The initiative is highly ambitious and has experienced significant setbacks in development as a microcity. The complex problem consists of Masdar failing to achieve its environmental targets and infrastructure development, lagging far behind objectives and timelines, as well as showing inconsistency in the management of the project.

This has led to generally low volumes of investment and migration to the city as the project has been criticized as a failure. Potential solutions to the issue must consider socio-economic realities as well as the principles of urban city development. It is suggested that the shift from the utopian ecological ambitions be shifted towards more realistic combinations of commercialized green technology. Furthermore, infrastructure should be expanded, by offering support for new firms that will then invest in relevant public works to support their businesses. Finally, the population can be increased through widespread marketing as well as offering opportunities for those seeking to live and work for improving the environment.

References

Abdelhamid, A. (2016). . Web.

A new approach to solving cities’ systemic problems. (n.d.) . Web.

Cugurullo, F. (2015). Urban eco-modernisation and the policy context of new eco-city projects: Where Masdar City fails and why? Urban Studies, 53(11), 2417-2433. Web.

Graves, L. (2016). . The National. Web.

Jensen, B.B. (2014). Masdar City: A critical retrospection. In S. Wippel, K. Bromber, C. Steiner, & B. Krawietz (Eds.), Under construction: Logics of urbanism in the Gulf region (pp. 134-146). Farnham, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Kenney, M. (2017). Explaining the growth and globalization of Silicon Valley: The past and today. Web.

Liu, C. (2018). South China Morning Post. Web.

Masdar. (2017a). Masdar’s core messaging [Fact sheet]. Web.

Masdar. (2017b). The source of innovation and sustainability: Investment and leasing opportunities at Masdar City [Brochure]. Web.

McArdle, M. (2018). Popular Science. Web.

The Future Build. (n.d.). Exploring Masdar City. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Masdar City Project and Creative Problem Solving." January 7, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/masdar-city-project-and-creative-problem-solving/.

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