Masdar City is an interesting creature. It was dreamt up and essentially planned during a real estate boom, with the intention of developing into the greenest city in the world. However, the city planners and thinkers behind it planned for it to be a market-driven development, and thus had to adjust expectations when the global real estate crisis hit. As we have crawled out of that, Masdar City has picked up pace as well — Siemens moved its regional headquarters to an insanely green office building in the city (600 staff members are based there), and IRENA’s global headquarters have recently been opened on what is currently the edge of the city. Masdar City still has a long way to go to become worthy of its name, but things are happening, and honestly, if I lived in the UAE, I’d want to live in Masdar City.
Approximately 2,000 people now work at Masdar City, and the development receives ~2,300 visitors each week. Furthermore, 446 Masdar Institute students from more than 60 countries live there, and 350 companies (from 6 different regions) are based there.
With my background in city planning (I received a master’s degree in the subject from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — ranked the #1 program in the nation for my specialization when I graduated), I have found Masdar City quite interesting since my first visit. It is an exceptional place. From the overall plan, to the design of the streets, to the design of each of the buildings, to the mix of uses. I may be a little biased, since CleanTechnica has gotten a bit of support from Masdar over the years and I have worked for Masdar a little bit, but I’m pretty certain I can separate those factors from my genuine opinion of the place — it is especially easy to do in this case, since I think Masdar City is such an objective winner. It may be “slow” to become a full city, but that’s because it is doing so organically and in the midst of challenging external circumstances.
No doubt about it, though: it has been exciting to see more and more buildings and also more and more activity in the development year after year (I have visited every January for the past 3 years). Masdar kicked things off by basing Masdar Institute there, with students living in apartments in the city. It was quite silent and empty when I first visited, especially since that’s the time of year when students are off, but then more businesses moved in — health food shops, coffee shops, cleantech companies, etc.
There are now 11 restaurants and coffee shops at Masdar City, and two food stores, two banks, a post office, a launderette, a telecom outlet, and some giant office buildings. There was some activity (outside of the labs and apartments that were hidden from someone like me standing on the street) when I first visited, but the activity on the streets has continuously increased, from what I’ve seen. Last year, I got to experience a very lively and fun community event called The Festival. This year I got to visit IRENA’s new global headquarters, which is essentially the stimulus for this article. The IRENA building is a bit disconnected from the rest of the city, but includes bikesharing (the exact same system I have in my home city of Wroclaw, even the same bikes) to easily get over to the other areas.
The Personal Rapid Transit system (PRT), which has been in the city since the beginning, carried 32,844 passengers per month in 2015, an increase of 14.8% compared with the previous year, Masdar has indicated.
I’m very eager to see things fill in between the IRENA headquarters and the rest of the currently built city, which I hope will happen in the next few years. I think that will make Masdar City start to feel like a little town, rather than a large (and awesome) development project. But even before that happens, it’s clear to see that the city is developing and has already become a very desirable place to live or visit or work, with a supportive mix of uses and the coolest external environment you can find in the harsh desert environment (temperature-wise, because of certain design choices, and also figuratively speaking, imho).
For more of a visual walkthrough, here are videos of the city that I’ve recorded in the past several years:
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