Masdar: Arabic for Chutzpah?

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The world's first car-free, zero-carbon city is slated to rise near the Persian Gulf by 2013.

Even though it derives almost all of its wealth from oil and gas, the emirate of Abu Dhabi is making a splashy effort to wean itself from fossil fuels, reports Agence France-Presse. Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahayanis has committed $15 billion towards the construction of a new city, called Masdar (Arabic for "source") that will house 50,000 people in a car-free environment and run entirely on renewable energy, mostly solar. 

"This is a place that has no carbon footprint and will not hurt the planet in any way," Khaled Awad, director of the Masdar project's property development unit of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC), told AFP.

"At the same time the city will offer the highest quality of life possible for its residents," he said on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Take that Qatar, with your measly little mist-cooled bike lanes

Masdar represents a far different approach than the Corbusier-of-Arabia style of urban planning we've seen in neighboring Dubai, but those promises of livability may be undermined by the city-state's chosen form of public transportation. Streets won't have to handle any car traffic. Rather, they will be criss-crossed by elevated Personal Rapid Transit guideways, a favored transportation mode of highway builders and cartoon villains. And while PRT might not make for the friendliest pedestrian environment, how nice does public space really need to be when the daytime temperature hovers around 90 degrees five months of the year?

The green-washing of the Persian Gulf comes not a moment too soon. The United Arab Emirates currently has the world's largest per-capita "ecological footprint:"

When it comes to squandering the earth's natural resources, residents of this desert land of chilled swimming pools, monster 4x4s and air-conditioned malls are on a par with even the ravenous consumption of Americans according to the World Wildlife Fund.