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When you think of sustainability, there's a reasonable chance that Dubai isn't the first city that springs to mind. Known for all things big, bold and expensive, one could be forgiven for expecting gold-plated solar panels - but that would be a mistake.
The emirate is trying to make a name for itself as a world leader in the field of renewable energy and eco-development, and with the announcement of a new academic partnership behind the scenes of the ambitious Sustainable City development, hopes are high that the city could be about to seal its place at the forefront of the global green development movement.
"A focus on our region reveals how important sustain-ability is for this part of the world," says Faris Saeed, CEO of Diamond Developers, the firm behind The Sustainable City (TSC) initiative.
"In 2013, the UN Environment Programme released historical photos compared against modern satellite images. Known as the Atlas Project, the initiative assessed the impact of development across the Middle East.
The chief findings were that many of the region's major issues are interrelated, with most a direct consequence of increasing populations, urbanisation and environmental conditions associated with climate change." Dubai has played a role in that change, says Saeed. "Rapidly developing cities are major users of resources and require huge amounts of energy and materials as they grow.
"This realisation was the impetus for Diamond Developers to create Sustainable City, a development designed to showcase what can be achieved through communal living, underpinned by the three key elements of sustainability - economic, environmental and social."
Setting new standards
The ambitious scheme planned across 46 hectares in Dubailand will boast zero net energy use when complete. It will feature 500 garden and courtyard villas set within pedestrianised, car-free streets with parking facilities for electric buggies. Nearby car parking areas will be covered by solar panels, generating power for electric vehicle charging and external lighting. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority bills, the developer says, could be significantly reduced due the provision of renewable power, solar water heating and water recycling facilities.
The community will also house an eco-resort and country club, a green school, science museum and a number of bio domes growing organic produce to be sold at weekly community markets, all within an environmental buffer zone designed to block dust, improve air quality and reduce noise pollution.
Nonetheless, it is the Sustainability Centre of Excellence due to open next year that is currently garnering worldwide attention, thanks to a partnership with the University of California, Davis (UCD). Building upon the Sustainability Research and Training Programme (SRTP), created as a result of an initial partnership between the two parties last year, the collaborative venture will fund academic and applied research in the field of eco-development, with the ultimate aim of finding new ways to boost sustainability efforts in arid climates.
"Every climatic zone will be impacted by climate change," says Francesca Wright, an analyst at SRTP. "California, like the UAE, faces serious climate change dynamics, including droughts, which endanger food production, urban growth and quality of life. We will be developing sustainability reporting metrics suitable for arid climates, which will benefit both our regions and arid regions around the world."
UCD Distinguished Professor Suad Joseph, a member of a small collaborative team behind the original partnership plan, believes both UCD and Diamond Developers can achieve far more together than apart. "[UCD] brings rigorous research standards and scientific knowledge to the partnership, while Diamond Developers provides financial support, venues to test innovations, marketing and business acumen.
"The UAE has the financial resources to invest in the development of technologies that can benefit [global] communities.
"Business leaders such as Diamond Developers not only understand the challenges created through dependence on fossil fuels but have the solution-focused vision and commitment to apply UAE resources to longterm alternatives. This is the path to the future: university and business partnerships to produce innovative solutions to global problems," he says.
Turning to teaching
Despite the focus on research, both Diamond Developers and UCD admit a big part of the success of the project will also depend upon their ability to educate the industry and the wider public on the importance of the sustainability agenda and the influence of climate change on lives.
"Educating individuals will be our key challenge," says Saeed. "The importance of sustainability is gaining greater credibility across the region but it still lacks the level of insight seen in other areas of the world. We feel that it is incumbent on us to make sure that all citizens of the UAE are aware of the need for sustainability, as their engagement and participation are vital aspects of the project."
To this end, the team has already unveiled plans to introduce cash subsidies for Sustainable City residents to invest in electric cars, along with the provision of free golf buggies for use on-site and public buses to the nearest Dubai Metro station in a bid to encourage mass transport use.
The team admits it also needs to make the idea of sustainable living attractive to investors and residents alike. "The entire development has been designed with the aim of enabling a sustainable lifestyle allied to a strong sense of community," explains Saeed.
"With nearly 60 per cent of the city's total area being green, there is a fantastic scope for outdoor leisure activities. The green spaces will cater to plenty of interaction among the residents through different activities that focus on sustainability. Its sports facilities, rehab centre and medical clinic will incorporate smart health apps and social media platforms to promote high-level academic discussion and knowledge sharing."
Being the first development of its kind in the region, the challenges are numerous but also surmountable, insists Saeed. "We are certainly not reinventing the wheel, as all the technologies employed in Sustainable City have been utilised elsewhere first," he says.
Source: Jennifer Gibson, Special to Property Weekly