Against the Odds, Eco-Cities Moving Forward


Songdo IBD in Incheon, South Korea (image via Inhabitat).

It doesn't take a world financial crisis to sink grand plans for sustainable cities. Even before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, some very ambitious eco-city projects were unceremoniously buried, while others simply fizzled out. However, crisis or no crisis, the number of eco-city initiatives popping up lately around the world continues to grow. Masdar Gets Sustainable City Center

Probably the most high-profile eco-city out there is Masdar City, already rising out on the edge of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Late last month, according to Architecture and Design, a plan was selected for Masdar's city center.

The plan, by Australia-based firm Lava, contains an interesting solution for moderating Abu Dhabi's harsh desert climate: "solar umbrellas." Supposedly modeled on sunflowers, these strange devices will actually open up during the day (see image above) to collect solar energy and provide shade, and close at night (below).


Images via Architecture and Design.

Masdar is going to be a seriously futuristic place. LAVA's downtown envisions the following list of green features: "adaptive building façades with angles that can be altered to offset or optimise solar glare, materials on wall surfaces that respond to changing temperatures and contain minimal embedded energy, underground water storage, interactive light poles, interactive and heat sensitive technology, as well as roof gardens for food production, energy generation, water efficiency and the reuse of organic food waste."

But perhaps the most innovative aspect of the design is that it's actually outdoors. As LAVA's designers note, the air conditioned shopping mall has come to replace public space in the Middle East in recent years. Masdar's new center will instead be an open plaza.

New Eco-City in South Korea

Meanwhile, Foster + Partners, the firm behind Masdar's master plan, recently won a competition to design a new city for 320,000 people on two islands northwest of Seoul. Incheon Free Economic Zone would be built around a light rail line, integrate rooftop agriculture and serve as a national center for sustainable industry.

Europe Redesigning its Cities

Back in Europe, Amsterdam is in the midst of transforming itself into a "smart city" by upgrading its infrastructure, investing in "smart grid" technology and installing solar panels. By doing so, the city expects to cut its emissions by 40% by 2025.

Denmark's second-largest city may take things a step further by becoming carbon-neutral by 2030. If the Aarhus city council approves the plan this month, the town will get an extensive green face lift. Danish cities are leading the way on sustainability, with Copenhagen aiming for carbon neutrality by 2025.

However, in Aarhus, local leaders are having a hard time getting the locals excited about their green dreams. A local journalist told The Guardian: "People don't really care. They are much more interested in the local football team, which is at the top of the league right now."

Tags: Architecture | Cities | Green Building | Urban Planning