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Innovative Ways to Collect Water from Air

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

World water resources are being depleted quickly as populations grow, urbanize and demand better living standards. Many scientists believe we are reaching peak water – the point at which fresh water is consumed faster than it is replenished.

According to Ensia (ensia.com), a magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action, 70 per cent of the earth’s fresh water reserves are locked up in snow or ice, and are expensive to tap and bring to the world’s water-stressed places. Of the remainder, most is in groundwater, soil moisture, swamps or permafrost, while just 0.3 per cent is easy to access in freshwater lakes and rivers.

By far the biggest user of water in the world – accounting for 69 per cent of the total – is farm irrigation. That’s a serious concern when considering the world will need to grow more food to feed an increasing population. Just 1 per cent of water is used for livestock, while 15 per cent is used for electricity generation and 7 per cent for manufacturing. More water is currently being pumped from underground resources than is being replaced from underground aquifers.

The average person needs to consume 0.6 to 1.3 gallons (2.72 liters to 6 liters) of water per day to survive in a moderate climate. For drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation, an individual needs 13 gallons (59 liters) a day (Ensia).

In many places, obtaining water requires a long trek to a well or stream. But non-desert climates have water as a resource readily available all around – trapped in the air. The clue to this resource’s existence is in the air’s humidity levels, the most visible sign of which is the dew that is found covering the grass and leaves every morning when people wake up. The trick is to extract that water from the air and create a steady supply of this essential resource.

Italian architect and designer Arturo Vittori (http://www.vittori-lab.com/team/arturo-vittori), a lecturer on aerospace architecture, technology transfer and sustainability, believes he has an answer.

Wired magazine (http://www.wired.com/2014/03/warka-water-africa/) reported that Vittori was inspired by a trip to Ethiopia, where he observed the daily struggle to get water. Access to water in northeastern Ethiopia often requires a long walk, which reduces the amount of time left in the day to do other things. Parents often take along their children, meaning the children cannot go to school. The time consumed by gathering water leaves people poorer and unable to dedicate more of their day to income-earning activities.

And there is no guarantee the water is safe to drink or free of chemical contaminants. This situation left Vittori pondering ways of coming up with an inexpensive solution that would eliminate the daily hassle of finding water and guarantee its quality.

The answer was a WarkaWater Tower (http://www.architectureandvision.com/projects/chronological/84-projects/art/492-073-warkawater-2012?showall=&start=1). The bamboo structure – which looks like an upended, latticework funnel – captures the dew and moisture in the air and collects it in a basket at the bottom.

The water collector is inspired by the Warka tree, or Ficus vasta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_vasta). Native to Ethiopia, it is known for providing shade and as a rendezvous point for traditional gatherings.

A WarkaWater Tower stands 8 meters in height and is made from either bamboo or reeds. Inside, a mesh traps humidity from the air and the water drips down into a basket. One tower can gather around 94 liters of water a day. The water is right there in the community and not kilometers away, meaning time and energy saved for income-generating tasks.

A WarkaWater Tower is constructed in sections, which are assembled and then stacked on top of each other. The construction does not need special scaffolding or special machinery. Once the tower is in place, it can also be used as a solar-power generator.

The tower is still a prototype and Vittori plans to build two towers for a launch in 2015.

In Peru, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune (http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=700400&CategoryId=14095), another innovative solution to the water crisis has been developed by students at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) (http://www.utec.edu.pe/Utec.aspx). The students have developed a highway advertising billboard that can draw drinking water out of the air. Inspired by a campaign called “Ingenuity in Action”, the students teamed up with a local advertising agency to design the billboard. It is capable of extracting water from the air and processing it through a filtration system as it flows down to a series of taps at the bottom.

The water-making billboard is at the 89.5 kilometer distance marker of the Pan-American Highway and has five electric-powered tanks that can hold a total of 96 liters of drinkable water. It is capable of providing enough water for hundreds of families. A true sign of our times!

Resources

1) How to Build a Rainwater Collection System. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Rainwater-Collection-System

2) The geopolitical difficulties of access to water covered in The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: A True Story about the Aral Sea Catastrophe by Robert Ferguson. Website: amazon.com

3) “Earth may have underground ‘ocean’ three times that on surface” from The Guardian. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jun/13/earth-may-have-underground-ocean-three-times-that-on-surface

An article on the impact of the water crisis on food supplies. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/09/enjoy-your-coffee-you-may-soon-not-be-able-to-afford-it

5) How to Make Water in the Desert. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Water-in-the-Desert


Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Indian Mobile Phone Application Innovators Empower Citizens

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

With mobile phones becoming ubiquitous across the global South, the opportunity to make money – and possible fortunes – by providing ‘apps’ for these devices is now a reality.

Apps (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_software) – applications which allow users of new mobile phones to do everything from running a business to banking to navigating chaotic cities – have quickly become a very creative space and a dynamic market for innovators and entrepreneurs. Because they are pieces of software and are relatively inexpensive to create, requiring only time and hard work, an individual working out of their home can develop an app, introduce it to the online marketplace and see if it will succeed.

The only limit is the imagination.

They are also a great way to solve people’s problems and possibly make some money in the process. As economies and cities grow across the South, many everyday difficulties can be tackled with these apps.

Apps are revolutionary because they solve the problem of how to view websites on mobile phones and smartphones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smartphone). Apps are designed for a small screen and have simple functionality and design. They often can function without any constant connection to the Internet, updating themselves sporadically when the phone can connect with phone networks or the Internet. They are also either free or inexpensive, using micro-payments to make a profit. The essence of the micro-payment business model is to charge a small amount and turn this into a large amount by having large numbers of people download the app. It is a successful business formula that has made many vast fortunes throughout the age of the mass consumer market, which began in the late 19th century.

Bart Decrem, co-founder of Tapulous, a maker of apps for the iPhone (http://tapulous.com), told The Economist: “Apps are nuggets of magic.”

Apps are sold in online stores run by companies like Apple (http://itunes.apple.com/us/genre/ios/id36?mt=8), Google, Sweden’s GetJar (http://www.getjar.com), and South Korea’s SK Telecom. Apple’s store has over 425,000 apps and Google’s Android Market has more than 250,000. Other stores include Mobihand, PocketGear, Mobango, Handango, Blackberry App World and Handster (http://www.handster.com).

Research firm Gartner (http://www.gartner.com/technology/home.jsp) estimated that 18 billion apps have been downloaded since Apple opened its first app store in 2008. Remarkably, it forecasts this number could rise to 49 billion by 2013. The most popular topics include games, weather forecasts, social networks, maps, music and news.

The dynamic documented so far for apps seems to follow the way music charts work. A few apps, out of the many on offer, become big sellers and popular favourites, getting the most users. Partly this reflects the difficulty of quickly searching through all the apps available in the world to find the right one, a process that favours well-marketed apps.

The recent TechSparks 2011 App4India (http://www.facebook.com/techspark) contest showcased the creative thinking about apps now happening in India.

One Indian success story is the 1000Lookz (http://www.vdime.com/pro1.htm) app, developed by Vasan Sowriraj (http://www.vdime.com/about.htm), which helps women perform a virtual beauty makeover. A woman can check what shades work best for her skin tone by using her own photos uploaded to the app. The user adds features like foundation, blush, gloss, eye-shadow, eye-liner and lipstick. The app uses facial recognition and skin tone detection technology to assist the virtual makeover. It was developed by VDime Innovative Works headquarterd in Atlanta, Georgia, with its technology developed by its Indian division.

1000Lookz’ mission is to create “innovative products that bring cheer to consumers’ faces.”

Sowriraj got his experience from working as a key member of the team developing special image processing for the Indian Space and Research Organisation (http://www.isro.org).

The same team has also developed another service enabling users to transform standard emoticons – those cartoons used in electronic communications to convey emotions – into emoticons using your own face image. It is called Humecons (http://www.humecons.com), and its slogan is “Emote Yourself”.

The India TV Guide, based in Bangalore, India’s software hub (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Tech_Park,_Bangalore), is a mobile phone application developed by Jini Labs (http://www.jinilabs.com) offering programme listings for 150 television channels broadcast in India, and allows viewers to save reminders for favourite shows and build favourites lists.

Jini Labs also makes Jini Books (http://itunes.apple.com/in/app/jinibooks/id404988026?mt=8), a clever app to display books, magazines and journals that are hard to find in conventional shops. It is free and promises to have “indie book authors and publishers – including small size, mid-size independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors.”

A very useful app improving people’s lives is the Indian Railway Lite app. India’s railways are a critical part of the country’s economy, and the world’s largest railway system. The complexity of trying to work out the train schedule has been made easier with the app.

Founded by Srinath Reddy, the app’s chief technology officer at RSG Software Services (http://www.rsgss.com), the app enables users to discover train connections between stations, and find which trains pass through stations, while navigating the Indian Railways website. It is a good example of how an app can quickly become a big hit. It became the second most popular on the Apple India app store and is downloaded more than 1,000 times a day.

One of the advantages of the app is its ability to function without access to the Internet. It draws on its own database of information and offers a friendlier user interface than the Indian State Railways website.

“This feature has proved to be very popular as users can access train information even while they are travelling and are out of network range,” Reddy told Yourstory.in. “We update the app at regular intervals and the user has to download a new version of the app to get updated information. Trains are generally added once in a few months and the timetable does not change significantly, so the user can use the same version until the next one is released.”

The app’s creators initially found it difficult to get information and updates from Indian Railways.

“We took around four to five months to build the app,” Reddy said. “Significant effort went into compiling the train and station data as this was not easily available. Refining the UI (user interface) took quite some time as well.”

The company saw a market for the app because there were so many iPhone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPhone) users in India. The app was downloaded 45,000 times between June and September, and other versions, including one for Google Android (www.android.com) are in the works to broaden access to people without an iPhone.

The company has its headquarters in Ranchi, India and has four development centers in India located in Delhi, Pune, Ranchi and Hyderabad. Currently, the company has approximately 250 employees with core competencies in Apple, Filemaker and Open Source technologies.

The Tuk Tuk 2 app is a clever and practical application for users of India’s ubiquitous motorized and bicycle rickshaws. They are an important part of the country’s transport infrastructure – but a journey in one can be a stressful experience for many reasons. This app seeks to lesson the stress.

Tuk Tuk 2 app (https://market.android.com/details?id=com.mindhelix.tuktuk2&hl=en) is designed to introduce fairness to the auto rickshaw marketplace. It empowers travellers to track where they are on a journey, check the fare and find the distance covered. It helps to reduce exploitation of travellers and makes sure they know where they are at all times: a powerful resource in crowded, busy and confusing cities.

It was developed by Mind Helix Technologies (http://www.mindhelix.com), founded in 2009 as a dedicated application development company with a mission to empower people with its apps. And that is really what apps are all about!

Resources

1) Mobile phone boot camp: Entrepreneurial Programming and Research on Mobiles: Website: http://www.media.mit.edu/ventures/EPROM/entrepreneurship.html

2) Mobile Active: MobileActive.org connects people, organizations, and resources using mobile technology for social change. Website: http://mobileactive.org/

3) Teams of motorcyclists with mobile phones in Lagos, Nigeria take pictures of traffic gridlock and open road, send it to central control, who grade it “slow”, “moving” or “free” and in turn send the message to subscribers. Website: http://www.traffic.com.ng

4) Southern Innovator magazine: New global magazine’s first issue tackles the boom in mobile phone and information technologies across the global South. Website: www.scribd.com/doc/57980406/Southern-Innovator-Issue-1

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Innovation in the Slums can bring Peace and Prosperity

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 27

Rioting in Kenya has once again reminded people of the volatility of urban slums and the price to be paid if the dreams of those who live there are not met. As documented by urban development expert Jeb Brugmann, “mismanaged urban migrations have been a central part of political revolutions in our world since the 1960s.” In Kenya, “as elsewhere, these slums have effectively become huge, parallel cities, with their own economies, governance and social dynamics. Two-thirds of Nairobi’s slum dwellers eke a living in the underground informal sector. Ninety per cent of them are tenants. The poverty rate in Nairobi doubled, for instance, between 1992 and 1997.”

Slums are usually despised by the local urban authorities around the world. They end up either being totally ignored and seen as an embarrassment, or in more extreme circumstances like Zimbabwe’s slum clearance in 2005 – “Operation Clean Up Trash” – they are swept away (only to pop up somewhere else). Recently in Ghana, slums were cleared with flame-throwers, as residents were quickly cleared out of their homes to make way for a football stadium. Schoolteacher Ibrahim Addalah, who lost his home, said: “My school is gone. The community had bought us a blackboard; we had made a small school. It took us a long time to get all those things: the benches, the books. They gave us no time to leave; they just burnt our homes and our future to the ground. Now we are living in the rubble with nowhere to go.”

Over 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). Improving conditions for these people is a Millennium Development Goal target. And half the world’s population will soon live in cities: already, in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums – and in the least-developed countries the figure is 78 per cent. The UN has estimated it will take US $18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the people themselves.

An essential route to improving the situation is to give people living in slums the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Initiatives across the South seek to do this and turn the situation on its head: seeing slum dwellers as a valuable asset, not an urban blight.

The concept of ‘slum networking’ has been developed by Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh of Ahmedabad , a winner of the Aga Khan award for architecture. He starts from the point of believing there is no need for slum conditions to exist in India, but that slums do not need to be moved, just upgraded; and that good change can happen quickly.

He also sees the residents’ involvement and financial contribution as critical to the sustainability of any improvements. His approach has already helped one million people overall, including 8,703 families (43,515 people) in Ahmedabad in 41 slum communities. Slum networking does not depend on aid funds but is a self-reliant approach, in which residents make a partnership with private suppliers to get access to the most important services first: clean water and hygiene and sanitation.

Parikh’s approach involves providing channels for sewage, water supply and roadways in existing slum areas by exploiting the natural topography and pattern of development to provide the new infrastructure.

Parikh makes a detailed survey plan of the existing houses and divides them into groups based on the quality of construction. If they are of reasonable quality, they are left in place. Where possible, slum dwellers are allowed to buy the land they are squatting on. By buying the land, the owner now has a direct stake in its development.

“Working inside out, i.e. starting with quality infrastructure in the poor areas and working outwards to produce larger networks for the city or village, not only integrates the two levels, but actually produces far cheaper infrastructure at both levels,” Parikh told Architecture Week magazine.

In the slums of the Indian city of Indore, 181 slums were networked, giving the city 360 kilometres of new roads, 300 kilometres of new sewer lines, 240 kilometres of new water lines, 120 community halls and 120,000 trees. This transformed the two local rivers from open sewers back to water. According to the World Bank, fatal water diseases fell by 90 per cent.

“No project for their rehabilitation could be successful until they were involved as the capital partners,” Parikh told India’s The Tribune. Upgrading “the civic amenities, including sewerage, roads and water supply, was the need of the hour for better living conditions of the slum dwellers.” In South Africa, the country’s fast-growing tourism trade is being directed towards its slums, not just its game parks, wineries and cities.

The sprawling Soweto district on the outskirts of Johannesburg – the heart of the struggle against the former apartheid regime – has lured tourists to come and stay with its network of bed and breakfasts (http://www.sowetonights.co.uk/snaccom_vhavenda.htm): home-based places to stay run by families. Like many slums, Soweto is a heady mix of contrasts: from wealthy suburban homes, to makeshift tin shacks to outright squalor and destitution. But the B and Bs ensure tourists stick around and spend more money, creating lasting jobs.

Over 200,000 visitors a year tour Soweto to see where Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu once lived. And as with all success, it attracts more success: the international hotel chain Holiday Inn has just opened a 48-room hotel in Soweto.
Giving dignity to the lives of slum dwellers is the work of a do-it-yourself “TV station” in Kenya. Kenya’s dramatic turn to violence after recent elections has led to a myopic view of the country, according to the young filmmakers and photographers behind Slum TV (http://www.slum-tv.info/). Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom.

“We look at what is good and what is bad. We see what is behind the scenes. The international media only shows the negative side,” said Benson Kamau of Slum TV.
Slum TV is a group of young men in Mathare with only a two-week workshop in the basics of film shooting and editing. They pay their bills by doing odd jobs. A grant from Austria paid for their one camera and a computer.

They screen their films every month to the residents of Mathare on a giant white sheet hanging over some vacant land. They illegally tap an overhanging electricity line for power – few can afford electricity. The films document everyday life in the slum – a man selling dougnuts, women frying potatoes – and the locals can see their lives recorded and acknowledged.

Resources 

1. Shelter Associates: established by Indian architect Pratima Joshi, it is an NGO working on slum rehabilitation. http://www.shelter-associates.org

2. SPARC: one of the largest Indian NGOs working on housing and infrastructure issues for slum dwellers. http://www.sparcindia.org

3. Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers: published by the Millennium Project. http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/reports/tf_slum.htm

4. For local bed and breakfasts in South Africa, click here sa-venues.com, tourist information at http://www.southafrica.net/

5. Slum Networking: Innovative Approach to Urban Development by Diane Diacon (editor). Website: http://www.amazon.co.uk

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Global South Eco-cities Show How the Future Can Be

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world is currently undergoing a high-stress transition on a scale not seen since the great industrial revolution that swept Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s urban and industrial transition involves many more people and is taking place on a greater proportion of the planet. With rapid urbanization comes a demand for middle class lifestyles, with their high-energy usage and high consumption of raw materials.

This is stretching the planet’s resources to breaking point. And as many have pointed out, if the world’s population is to continue past today’s 7 billion to reach 9 billion and beyond, new ways of living are urgently required. Radical thinking will be necessary to match the contradictory goals of raising global living standards for the world’s poor with pressured resources and environmental conditions.

But there are innovative projects already under development to build a new generation of 21st-century cities that use less energy while offering their inhabitants a modern, high quality of life. Two examples are in China and the Middle East.

Both projects are seen as a way to earn income and establish viable business models to build the eco-cities of the future. Each project is seeking to develop the expertise and intellectual capacity to build functioning eco-cities elsewhere. In the case of the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates, international businesses are being encouraged to set up in Masdar City and to develop technologies that can be sold to other countries and cities – in short, to create a green technology hub akin to California’s hi-technology hub ‘Silicon Valley’. Masdar City is also being built in stages as investors are found to help with funding. Both projects hope to prove there is money to be made in being green and sustainable.

The Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.

Tianjin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin) is a large industrial city southeast of China’s capital, Beijing. It is a place that wears the effects of its industrial expansion on the outside. Air pollution is significant and the city has a grimy layer of soot on most outdoor infrastructure.

China has received a fair bit of criticism for its polluted cities as the country has rapidly modernized in the past two decades. This sprint to be one of the world’s top economic powers has come at a cost to the environment. In this respect, China is not unusual or alone. Industrialization can be brutal and polluting, as Europe found out during its earlier industrial revolution.

But China is recognizing this can’t go on forever and is already piloting many initiatives to forge a more sustainable future and bring development and high living standards back in line with what the environment can handle.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is the second large-scale collaboration between the Chinese government and Singapore. The first was the Suzhou Industrial Park (http://www.sipac.gov.cn/english/).The Tianjin project came up in 2007 as both countries contemplated the challenges of rapid urbanization and sustainable development.

The project’s vision, according to its website, is to be “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development.”

The philosophy behind the project is to find a way of living that is in harmony, with the environment, society and the economy. It is also about creating something that could be replicated elsewhere and be scaled up to a larger size.

The city is being built 40 kilometres from Tianjin centre and 150 kilometres from Beijing. It is located in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, considered one of the fastest growing places in China.

Construction is well underway and can be followed on the project’s website (http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/gal.htm). It will be completed in 2020.

This year, the commercial street was completed and is ready for residents to move in.

Residents will be encouraged to avoid motorized transport and to either use public transport or people-powered transport such as bicycles and walking.

An eco-valley runs down the centre of the city and is meant to be a place for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy.

The basic building block of the Eco-city – its version of a city block – is called the Eco Cell. Each Eco Cell measures 400 metres by 400 metres, a comfortable walking distance. Four Eco Cells make a neighbourhood. Several Eco Neighbourhoods make an Eco District and there are four Eco Districts in the Eco-city. It is a structure with two ideas in mind: to keep development always on a walkable, human scale and also to provide a formula for scaling up the size of the Eco-city as the number of residents increases.

It is a logical approach and seeks to address one of the most common problems with conventional cities: sprawling and unmanageable growth that quickly loses sight of human need.

Agreement was also reached on the standards that should be achieved for a wide variety of criteria, from air and water quality to vegetation, green building standards, and how much public space there should be per person.

An ambitious project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to become both the world’s top centre for eco cities and a living research centre for renewable energy. Masdar City (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/)is planned to be a city for 40,000 people. It is billed as a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies will be “marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.”

The city hopes to become home to hundreds of businesses, a research university and technology clusters.

This version of an eco-city is being built in three layers in the desert, 17 kilometres from the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The goal is to make a city with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by renewable energy. It is an ambitious goal but there are examples in the world of cities that use significant renewable energy for their power, such as Reykjavik, Iceland in Northern Europe, which draws much of its energy from renewables and geothermal sources.

Masdar City is designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster (fosterandpartners.com) and will be 6.5 square kilometres in size.

The design is highly innovative. The city will be erected on 6 metre high stilts to increase air circulation and reduce the heat coming from the desert floor. The city will be built on three levels or decks, to make a complete separation between transport and residential and public spaces.

The lowest deck will have a transportation system based on Personal Rapid Transport Pods. These look like insect eyes and are automated, controlled by touch screens, using magnetic sensors for propulsion. On top of this transport network will be the pedestrian streets, with businesses, shops and homes. No vehicles will be allowed there, and people will only be able to use bicycles or Segway (segway.com) people movers to get around. An overhead light railway system will run through the city centre, all the way to Abu Dhabi City.

“By layering the city, we can make the transport system super-efficient and the street level a much better experience,” Gerard Evenden, senior partner at Foster + Partners, told The Sunday Times. “There will be no car pollution, it will be safer and have more open spaces. Nobody has attempted anything like this.”

Masdar City is being built in stages as funding comes, with the goal of completion by 2016. It hopes to achieve its aspiration to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly city in the world. As for water supplies in the desert, there is a plan: dew collected in the night and morning and a solar-powered desalination plant turning salt water into drinking water.

Electricity will come from a variety of sources. Solar panels will be on every roof and double as shade on alleyways. Non-organic waste will be recycled, while organic waste will be turned into fuel for power plants. Dirty water will be cleaned and then used to irrigate green spaces. Because of the design, the planners hope the city will just use a quarter of the energy of a conventional city.

To keep the city smart and the project on top of developments in renewable energy, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/) will specialize in renewable energy technology.

The cost for the city was pegged at US $22 billion in 2009.

The chief executive of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s renewable-energy company – is Sultan Al Jaber. He sees the city as a beacon to show the way for the rest of the Emirate to convert from a highly inefficient consumer of energy to a pioneer in green technology.

“The problem with the renewable-energy industry is that it is too fragmented,” he told The Sunday Times. “This is where the idea for Masdar City came from. We said, ‘Let’s bring it all together within the same boundaries, like the Silicon Valley model (in California, USA).’”

The project needs to gather much of its funding as it progresses. The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (http://cdm.unfccc.int/) is helping with financing. Companies can earn carbon credits if they help fund a low-carbon scheme in the global South. The sultan is ambitious and sees this as a “blueprint for the cities of the future.” It has been able to bring on board General Electric (GE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to sponsor the university.

It is possible to visit Masdar City and take a tour (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/105/visit-masdar-city/) and it is also possible to view online what has been built so far (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/32/built-environment/).

Resources

1) Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE): Located in Texas, USA, CITE is a fully functioning city with no residents to test new technologies before they are rolled out in real cities. Website: http://www.pegasusglobalholdings.com/test-center.html

2) Digital Cities of the Future: In Digital Cities, people will arrive just in time for their public transportation as exact information is provided to their device. The Citizen-Centric Cities (CCC) is a new paradigm, allowing governments and municipalities to introduce new policies. Website: http://eit.ictlabs.eu/action-lines/digital-cities-of-the-future/

3) Eco-city Administrative Committee: Website: http://www.eco-city.gov.cn/

4) Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. Website: tianjineco-city.com

5) ‘The Future Build’ initiative, a new green building materials portal from Masdar City. Website: thefuturebuild.com

6) UNHABITAT: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the UN agency mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org

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