The trend offers some insight as we struggle with the ‘how’ of delivering net zero. Masdar City, for example, aims to roadmap global use of sustainable technologies. Masdar operates one of the world’s largest solar farms and 11 megawatts of PV panels are installed throughout Masdar City to help decarbonise the electricity grid at scale. It centres on a roster of LEED Platinum-rated buildings, a global marker for green energy. And at the Masdar Institute, other solar-powered technology is said to produce drinking water from the air. Up to 1,000 litres a day per unit.
It also shows today’s slow and complex road to progress. Masdar City is notorious for being far behind on its ambitious build and population targets. Widely reported to be still in phase one of construction. Today’s small scale build is a glimpse of what digital transformation might feel like. With greentech infrastructure funnelling cool air down through shaded walkways. On streets kept car-free thanks to a number of driverless pods, ferrying its small community of start-up workers underground.
(The Line's development is less clear. Its advertising speaks on evolving the smart city concept into a 'cognitive', or 'predictive' one, by “integrating AI and robotics into every aspect of personal and commercial life”.)
The Masdar City Free Zone is another conversation-starter – a self sovereign area welcoming cleantech ventures. Boasting the kind of organisational freedoms required for the smart city transition. It brings into question the path to equitable smart solutions. Could these siloed areas fast track accessible global innovation? Or do they just wall off an elite?
As well as hosting Cop28, Expo City aims to house UAE’s first ‘15 minute village’. Around the world, the ‘15 minute neighbourhood’ is another look at techno-humanistic urban planning. The aim is to provide residents access to all essential services within a 15 minute radius of their home. Experiments play out in projects such as Bogota’s ‘Barrios Vitales’. Where live data is used to reroute traffic, prioritise walkable areas and give space back to its people.
The concept helps us see the potential of today's innovation in improving our everyday lives. Expanding urban green space, promoting healthier, low-carbon communities and realising new solutions in sustainable technologies.
The 15 minute neighbourhood is a simple idea. That this idea manages to sound utopian, in comparison to the realities of contemporary urban life, is telling of where we are today. Much like Cop28, it's a reminder of the work to be done to make these visions a reality.