Living in an Eco-City

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by Anastasia Eleftheriou
Imperial College London

Roger Wood (Engineer and Architect, Associate director at the construction of Dongtan Eco-City.) said:
“We didn't want to use crops grown specifically to be used as a fuel because that increases the footprint of the whole development. So we looked for a waste product.”

It's a general truth that we live in a suffering planet which has various geometrically increasing needs and demands. It's estimated that around 5 billion people will live in cities by 2030, a fact that makes cities all over the world set high targets to reduce carbon emissions and produce clean energy. Specifically, 60 per cent is the targeted reduction of CO2 emissions that London is planning, by 2025. However, an alternative option has started to evolve which is to build new cities from scratch that are called Eco-Cities or Sustainable Cities.

The term Eco-City refers to the city which is designed specifically to minimize its energy, water and food needs, reduce its emitting pollution and waste of resources, and be able to supply goods to its inhabitants with minimal reliance on the surrounding countryside. Fortunately, this relatively new idea is being applied at the moment in two places, one in China which is called Dongtan (near Shanghai), and one in the United Arab Emirates called Masdar (17 km from Abu Dhabi).

Plans for Dongtan Eco-City started in 2005. It is located in a corner of Chongming island which is going to be connected with Shanghai by a bridge and a tunnel link. It will consist of three interlinked villages, and all of them will combine homes, businesses and places for recreation. It will be able to provide a home for 80,000 people, by 2020, and its designer's aim is that every one will live no more than seven minutes' walk from public transport.

In addition to this, no CO2 emitting cars will be available in either Dongtan or Masdar as only electric vehicles will be allowed. Another benefit is gained by this fact as electric cars are quiet, and thinner materials can be used in building constructions as there will be less noise to drown out. More than 60 per cent of the whole site is being allocated to parks and farmland and they expect that an initial 83 per cent reduction in waste will be sent to landfills compared to other cities. As great amounts of rice husks are available in the area, they will be burned to produce energy and the releasing CO2 of this burn is going to be captured and fed into greenhouses.

Masdar Eco-City, located in a country that is a leading producer of fossil fuels, ironically will be one of the most ecologically healthy city. Its area will be 6.5 km^2 with a population of around 50,000 people and a total cost of around 22 billions dollars. A light railway line will provide a transport link to Abu Dhabi and nobody will be more than 200m away from the public transport. A desalination plant will provide 8000m^3 of water a day, and a 60 per cent of the water used in Masdar will be recycled.

In order to solve the problem of the high temperatures without switching on the air-conditioning, they focused on insulation and ventilation and also in the maximization of shade. This is achieved by packing closely together the streets of the city and by limiting the maximum height of the buildings to four or five storeys. Engineers will use thin walls that react quickly to the sun and a thin metal layer on the outside to reflect the heat and stop it from penetrating the building. One major difference of Masdar from typical cities is that the whole city will be raised on a desk with the pedestrian level be free of vehicles and consequently, traffic noise. The first people to live in Masdar will be students at the Masdar Institute, which will be a base for sustainable engineering.

I hope that the first Eco-Cities will be able to inspire others and also enhance the way that other cities are trying to go green. In the UK, 10 eco-towns were about to be built, but because of the credit crunch and strong local protests at the proposed sites, further considerations are made. Concluding, it's essential to mention that life in an Eco-City, will be of a better quality not only for people's body which is going to enjoy the health benefits, but also for their spirit, as they will feel closer to nature.

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