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With a UN report predicting about 70 per cent of the world's population living in cities by 2030, the cities of the future will need to evolve beyond high speed highways, gargantuan bridges or impossibly tall skyscrapers. There needs to be harmony between the built environment and the natural environment, and the only way to achieve this is by focusing on the city's sustainability, points out Wassim Adlouni, Executive Director of Diamond Developers, which is specializing in eco-friendly community developments.
''Sustainability is not an abstract notion,'' says Adlouni, whose company is building the region's first net zero energy project, The Sustainable City. ''It is all about providing the human needs of the future — this includes economic living [standards], a healthy environment and strong social relationships.''
According to Diamond Developers, The Sustainable City, which spans 5 million sq ft in Dubailand, is designed to provide innovative solutions, integrating the three key elements of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. The project embodies the true meaning of sustainable living through stakeholder engagement, innovative design and future monitoring.
Cities of the future
''Sustainability is all about respect for both the natural environment and human nature, where the social needs of people are fulfilled in a constructive and productive manner,'' says Adlouni. ''Communities are first and foremost about the people. At The Sustainable City, the primary objective is to improve the quality of life socially, economically, and environmentally.''
The Sustainable City may have bridged the gap between building a futuristic urban community and effective management of the environment. It offers all the modern amenities from an equestrian centre to a jogging track, outdoor fitness stations and a swimming pool, but then there are also over 3,000 fruit-bearing trees, two lakes of recycled grey water connected to a stream used to irrigate the surrounding vegetation using the traditional falaj irrigation system. There are 11 ''biodomes'' across the central spine of the community that grow herbs and vegetables, which are offered to residents through weekly food box programmes.
''The Sustainable City is an innovative concept and a first for the region,'' says Adlouni. ''Sustainable best practices have been employed in everything we do, from water to construction. For instance, we recycle 100 per cent of the water through grey and black water [recycling] sys tems, which is very unusual for any community in Dubai.
''There are solar panels on the roofs of all the villas, which are hooked up to the grid, so surplus solar power goes back into the system,'' says Phil Duncan, Landscape Architect at Diamond Developers. The company explains that a sustainable community is about using appropriate technology and understanding how existing and new technology can serve and improve communities.
It is also important to strike a balance between new technology and traditional systems. ''I like to think of The Sustainable City as a high-tech, low-tech city,'' says Duncan. ''For instance, the narrow streets and courtyards, the wind towers and inner facing windows are all examples of the older urban vernacular form that have been incorporated into the building of the city.''
There are also design elements incorporated to minimise energy consumption. ''The windows are in the north side of the house and positioned in such a way as to catch the predominant north-west breeze, creating a cooling micro-climate in the city,'' says Duncan. ''Solar shaded parking lots on both sides of the clusters generate enough electricity to power all outdoor LED lighting, as well as charge electric vehicles and golf carts through dedicated charging stations.
''Even the landscape is not about looking pretty; it's a productive landscape where plants are used not to look beautiful, but to provide food, clean the air, clean the habitat and fix nitrogen in the soil.''
The notion of sustainability has evolved over the years, from merely a label synonymous with anything that is green to an understanding that any community that has sustainability at its cornerstone is instead focused on human, natural and economic resources.
View to the future
''In the growing years, suitability wasn't a key mandate in the UAE or the region, but as you can see with everything the government is now doing, being sustainable is critical for the future smart city plans of the emirate,'' says Adlouni. ''But it means different things to different people. Here at The Sustainable City, we are focusing on the economic and social part of a sustainable community, which is why we have sold 300 of our 500 units and the remaining 200 is reserved for rentals. The overwhelming response has led us to believe that people are searching for a sense of community, coupled with the need to give back. The City helps facilitate this.''
While the attraction of The Sustainable City is its core premise, a huge part of the draw is also the surprisingly affordable price tag. ''We decided early on in the project that making it affordable was a key to customer engagement,'' explains Adlouni. ''We spent more on ensuring that the construction materials are all sustainable, such as the glass, walls, cladding, aluminium, the envelope of the building. This in turn reduces the air-conditioning consumption and cost by 50 per cent. So while my construction cost rose by 20-30 per cent, it was offset by savings in other areas such as energy consumption and electrical wires, due to significantly lesser loads.''
The Sustainable City has been inspired by other groundbreaking projects that have pushed the limits of sustainable development. ''Planning the project began with immense research,'' says Adlouni. ''We visited a lot of places in Japan, Germany, the UK, Denmark and California to understand how green buildings work. We wanted to expand the scope to green communities and create a larger sustainable community. We have not created anything new, but put together the best elements from existing green communities around the world.''
The developers are also equally modest in claiming that The Sustainable City, while groundbreaking in many ways, is not a perfect model. ''Being sustain able isn't a one-time thing, where the goal is achieved in one or two years. It is a continuous process to ensure that the environment is not overdeveloped, overbuilt, overused, overpopulated and overstressed,'' says Adlouni. ''It is about adjusting to the demands of the environment, to avoid pollution, natural disaster and social disintegration.''
With a view to achieving the perfect sustainable community, the Diamond Innovation Centre, the first negative life cycle footprint building in the region, is being constructed in the community. Over its 50-year lifespan, the building will produce 140 per cent of its energy requirements, thus covering its operational consumption, while offsetting its manufacturing, construction and demolition carbon emissions. The Innovation Centre also has a smart control room, which will monitor the city's performance, constantly striving to enhance its functions and operation.
The centre will host research and development activities, as well as conferences and exhibitions showcasing global advancements in the field of sustainability. Additionally, training and consulting services will be offered to students and industry professionals in the sustainability industry.
The Sustainable City up close
Phase one of the development, comprising the Buffer Zone, Equestrian Centre, Central Green Spine, Residential Clusters 1-5, Community Mall and utilities, has been completed. Residents have started to move in, with more than 50 families already residing in the community. Phase two, comprising the eco-resort, country club, school, Science Museum and Planetarium and Sustainability Centre of Excellence, will be completed in the second quarter next year.
The Buffer Zone consists of four layers of 2,500 trees; a shaded, two-way 4km horse track; a shaded, two way 4km cycle track; and a shaded 3km rubberized walking track. It also has a bio-swale that collects storm water runoff for recycling and reuse. The 27m-wide zone is designed to help reduce air and noise pollution, as well as provides shade and enhances air quality.
Central Green Spine
The Central Green Spine comprises 36,000 sq m of productive landscapes, urban farming, outdoor sports and recreation, as well as recycled water irrigation systems. The Spine is also where you will find five outdoor fitness, yoga and sport stations, multiple shaded seating areas, a community swimming pool and gym with associated amenities, two lakes that use 100 per cent recycled water, a traditional falaj water irrigation system and 3,000 productive trees that include palm, mango, papaya, pomegranate and fig.
The 11 biodomes that are part of the Spine stand 7m in height and are 300 sq m in size. They grow a wide selection of herbs, vegetables and fruits, with the surplus produce sold at Friday community markets.
The Equestrian Centre is spread over 4,400 sq m with 32 stable stalls. Activities on offer include horse riding lessons, horse jumping and beauty shows and city tours on horse-drawn carriage.
The Residential Cluster consists of five clusters of 100 units each, all connected to the Central Green Spine. Each cluster is divided into 16 lots of three- and four bedroom courtyard and garden villas. The solar-shaded parking areas generate power for outdoor LED lighting and charge electric cars and golf carts.
The 15,000-sq-m community mall comprises various shops, cafés and restaurants on the periphery of an outdoor central plaza. It will also have 89 apartments for lease, as well as offices, a health-care clinic, nursery, supermarket, community amenities and the Friday community market.
The Science Museum and Planetarium will offer indoor and outdoor interactive sustainability exhibits on energy, water, air, waste and transportation. It will also have an observation deck with a 360-degree view of the city.
The Diamond Innovation Centre is a 10,000-sq-m institution focused on sustainability. It will monitor the community's environmental performance, apart from other activities such as applied sustainability research and development, training courses, consulting services, sustainability exhibitions and conferences. It will also provide scholarships to students from other universities.
Hotel Indigo, located within the community, is a first-of-its-kind resort in the region that is powered 100 per cent by solar energy. It comprises a mix of 143 guest rooms and bungalows.
Get a glimpse of Oud Metha - A walk to work and school
Source: Sanaya Pavri, Special to Property Weekly