The most common experience people have with Abu Dhabi seems to be a stop over during their travels, a stay that is rarely longer than 12 hours. Yet, not far from the airport lays one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the oil rich United Arab Emirates. Masdar City aimed to be a beacon of sustainable living, a gem that shone bright with clean energy and carbon neutral innovation. Tens of billions of dollars were sunk into the desert city, with a world leading university at its core, but has the city reached the high hopes of its design?

The sustainable metropolis originally sought 50,00 residents to inhabit its streets, with a preference towards international corporations and young high-tech start-ups. Recent footage shakily portrays the futuristic compound as some sort of ghost city, bringing up visions of China’s Thames Town and infamous Ordos.

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Thames Town, China – A city built to replicate an English town is barely inhabited

“Walking around, there are some seemingly deserted buildings (it’s a disturbing experience to enter an empty hall, take an elevator, and discover that each floor is also abandoned), alley ways used by security guards (to protect the abandoned buildings?) or cleaning sites (it is true that the dust from the desert gets everywhere and causes damages to photovoltaic panels on the roofs of the buildings). The loud drone of natural air conditioning (a huge wind tower) is omnipresent, even oppressive. Some students (there are barely a hundred, the only inhabitants in the city) seem lost even though the surface area is small.” Julien Eymeri, Fast Company

MASDAR (OPENING SOON) CITY from QUARTIER LIBRE on Vimeo.

The premise of the city is very interesting considering it is being built in a country with a wealth solely attributed to fossil fuels. Could the poor reception of the eco-friendly attempt be a metaphor for the future of this fossil fuel country?
At the current rate of consumption, the estimated 1.3 trillion barrels of oil remaining in our earth will be depleted in 40 years. The United Arab Emirates have approximately 97.8 billion barrels of that figure left before they run out.

Looking beyond an attempt at diversification the Masdar City project is an amazing experiment. Never before has an entire city been planned from the roots up with every piece of its being built under a carbon neutral agenda. Will this ambitious project be the first of future cities, or a white elephant amongst the excess of UAE?