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Masdar City, UAE – Raising the bar on sustainability

A prime example of sustainable development, Masdar is the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste city

At a time when nations around the world are making frantic efforts over trying to cut their carbon footprint and find out effective ways and means of tackling universal problems like climate change and global warming, the need of the hour is to create sustainable infrastructure that not only offers an opulent lifestyle for its inhabitants but also takes good care of the environment. A leading example of an infrastructure project that has amalgamated the twin aspects of sustainability and comfort is the ongoing Masdar City project in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The city is being billed as the first zero carbon and zero waste city on the planet.

Objective
Besides being the world’s first zero carbon city, Masdar City also has the distinction of being built without the use of carbon energy. Sprawled over an area of around 6 square kilometres, the sustainability model of the city will allow it to become a car-free, zero waste and zero carbon area. The guiding force behind this upcoming project is the ten sustainability principles of One Planet Living, as suggested by the World Wildlife Fund and Bioregional Development. These principles are based on the theory that everyone should live within their share of the Earth’s resources.

Lay-out of the city
Masdar City’s lay-out and design have been created keeping in mind the extreme climatic conditions in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The narrow streets and shaded walkways of the city are meant to offer an ideal pedestrian friendly setting. Besides, the expansion plans also include energy farms, research fields and plantations to allow the city to become completely self-sufficient. A part of the first phase of the project is already up and running and the results are impressive to say the least.

While a temporary photovoltaic plant at the site will help generate zero carbon energy for the construction process, an innovative strategy has also been evolved to produce energy from the city’s waste. It will be done with the help of recycling facilities for municipal solid waste and also for converting organic waste into gas, which in turn will power an engine to produce electricity.

Transportation
Another important step towards achieving Masdar’s zerocarbon objective is to keep the city completely car free. Several car parks will be constructed to allow commuters to park their cars before entering the city. A Personalised Rapid Transport (PRT) system with driver less cabs that connect various parts of the city will complete the internal transport system. Besides, a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system has also been planned to connect the city with Abu Dhabi.

GIS at work
To successfully implement a project of such massive scale requires a lot of spatial information and GIS is the tool that the city’s planners are banking upon to give them an edge in carrying out this mammoth task on hand. Masdar City is an excellent example that shows the power of GIS in helping to design the future.

Signifying the importance of using GIS during various phases of this project, Derek Gliddon, GIS manager, Masdar, says: “GIS is imperative in managing the overall spatial information necessary for designing, building, and operating Masdar City.”

ArcGIS was chosen as the solution by the planners of the city to help manage and evaluate the huge pool of information right through the lifecycle of Masdar city. To begin with, various crucial factors such as the sun angle, wind pattern, widths of various streets as well as building density were taken into account.

To ensure the uniformity of all variables as well as effective communication throughout the project, the developers used a geodatabase that makes use of a single coordinate system for the entire project. Apart from that, a common basemap was created for activities like planning, design and construction. Various data layers in the geodatabase contain comprehensive information on vegetation, transportation, drainage, buildings, biodiversity, utilities etc.

Besides, it also contains layers for terrain elevation, remotely sensed imagery and bathymetric data. Different types of information are integrated into the map layers as well as georeferenced photographs and GPS coordinates.

All information related to construction is joined together by location to make it more accurate. The information is available to various organisations involved in developing the city so that there is no problem of data duplication or several data versions. GIS played an important part in ensuring that the zero-carbon mission of the city was translated from concept to design. It even helped the planners decide on where to place material during the construction phase so that the transport related carbon emission could be minimised.


Looking forward
While other cities of a similar size can create as much as 1.1 million tonnes of CO2 per year, Masdar City is on track towards achieving its goal of zero carbon emissions. After the construction is complete, ArcGIS will be integrated with a computerised maintenance management system that will contain the location of the gas pipes, water networks, transportation network as well as other infrastructure assets. The use of GIS will make maintenance more convenient and will also enable easier tracking of the use and reuse of various resources.