Plan Abu Dhabi 2030: Sustainable City

Introduction and Background

Abu Dhabi is among the fastest growing cities in the world. Financed by oil revenues, Abu Dhabi is United Arab Emirate (UAE’s) centre for industrial and commercial activities.1 The city hosts some of the most important government offices and houses UAE’s ruling family. Among the seven Emirates of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is the largest. Its size however underscores its importance in the UAE because Abu Dhabi leads the way in promoting sustainable development in not only the UAE but also other Arab countries.

Since the discovery of oil reserves in the mid 20th century, Abu Dhabi has witnessed tremendous economic growth. This economic growth has increased the standard of living for most Abu Dhabi citizens and equally spurred tremendous growth in industrialization and urbanization.2 From this economic development, Abu Dhabi ranks among the top 70 most expensive cities globally.3 One benefit Abu Dhabi has enjoyed from its tremendous economic success is its attractiveness in promoting foreign investments.

Around the world, many new investors are seeking to set up businesses in Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE (this shows in the high number of expatriates around the world working in the UAE). This growth has seen UAE emerge as a cosmopolitan metropolis. In addition, the growing focus on UAE as a safe haven for global investments has resuscitated the national quest to see Abu Dhabi live up to the reputation of a global hub for investments (the potential for rapid and explosive growth in the UAE is therefore dependent on this fact).4

Coupled with the unprecedented economic and social growth of Abu Dhabi, an expanding population and a growing demand for new social amenities has overstretched Abu Dhabi’s infrastructure. In 1970, Abu Dhabi’s city design accommodated a population of about 600,000 people.5 At the time, this urban city plan was ideal. While the population has remained relatively steady, the coming few years will see a rapid increase in the population to about 3,000,000 in 2030.6

Currently, Abu Dhabi has a well-developed infrastructure, characterized by wide grid pattern roads, an expansive urban infrastructure system and high-density towers (that house most of Abu Dhabi’s business enterprises and major national institutions such as the Central Bank of UAE). Ironically, despite Abu Dhabi’s desert location, people consider the city to be “UAE’s greenery”.7 This perception manifests from the fact that the city hosts several green parks and gardens, which have transformed the former desert strip into a remarkable sight.

While the tremendous potential for economic growth is important to the socioeconomic prosperity of Abu Dhabi, the government has realized that it is untenable to rely on an old master plan to oversee the city’s future developments. From this realization, the Abu Dhabi government established the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC) to regulate all new city projects. One motivation for the government to establish this institution is its commitment to see Abu Dhabi grow into a sustainable city.8 Through this motivation, Abu Dhabi government aims to see the city’s development projects managed and coordinated in a sustainable way.

By refocusing government’s priorities, experts say, Abu Dhabi will strategically benefit from its position as a sustainable city hub in the wider Arab peninsula.9

The goal of seeing Abu Dhabi become a sustainable city also complements a wider government vision to see UAE’s economy transition from a predominantly oil dependent economy into a tourist destination. In fact, UAE is slowly positioning itself as a hub for renewable energy technologies.10 Therefore, the main aim outlining most development projects in Abu Dhabi is to complement UAE’s goal of diversifying its economy.

Like Abu Dhabi’s diversification vision, Dubai also hosts similar initiatives aimed at transforming UAE’s economy into an eco-friendly zone. From this commitment, Jamali reports the concerns of many people who ask why a country such as UAE that enjoys huge oil reserves would want to invest many resources in renewable energy and sustainable practices.11 The answer for the above question lies in the renewed focus (not only in the Gulf but also across the world) to embrace environmentally friendly practices in urban city planning and other sectors of development. Therefore, as the world embraces new and “greener” technologies, Abu Dhabi wants to position itself in the global map as a hub for developing new technologies.12

As part of the government’s commitment to see Abu Dhabi’s growth increase in a sustainable way, in 2007, the Abu Dhabi government unveiled a grand plan to guide development projects in Abu Dhabi for the next quarter century. This plan is Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.13 The planning process for Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 started in 2006 and soon after, a series of negotiations started – including an analysis of Abu Dhabi’s economic situation, the city’s growth targets, a review of Emirate’s infrastructure and a conceptual overview of Abu Dhabi’s environment.

Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is part of a wider vision started by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to see Abu Dhabi transform into a sustainable global city. His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) founded this vision. The main goal of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is to help the city manage some of its current and future development needs. The vision’s designers also wanted to introduce a sustainable planning culture and new principles in construction that will guide the city’s future.

Another objective of the Plan is to streamline the city’s development with the needs and aspirations of the Abu Dhabi people (this objective intends to produce a coherent and wholesome plan of UAE’s development that involves community participation).14 Furthermore, the plan also forms the framework for the development of future expansionary plans for the city. This framework means the city’s development plan is both comprehensive and a summary of future development plans.

For example, future zoning activities and regulatory policies base their structures on this plan. Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 also acts as an intermediary document for ongoing development projects in the city. Such development projects include infrastructure plans, the improvement of transport networks, and the promotion of eco-tourism activities in the city.15

Comprehensively the urban development framework for Abu Dhabi (as outlined in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030) sets to make the city an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable city. The goal of releasing economic prosperity without necessarily sacrificing some of the city’s gems (like the environment) directs this vision. Finally, the vision also aims to introduce new development attributes to make Abu Dhabi a significant global metropolis.16

Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is a product of rigorous negotiations and consultations between the city’s planners, the government, and the people of Abu Dhabi. Indeed, some of the main issues that informed the plan’s design includes intensive consultations with Abu Dhabi’s leadership, accommodating the city’s growing population, Abu Dhabi’s cultural identity, and environmental concerns that still choke most of UAE’s construction activities.17 Even though Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is expansive, it aims to reflect Abu Dhabi’s future aspirations – in terms of opportunities for growth and development. The development of the master plan therefore provided a broad and progressive impression of the city’s future look (and the principles outlining this vision).

This paper focuses on Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 by explaining its importance to Abu Dhabi’s growth strategy. After weighing the challenges and opportunities of Abu Dhabi in attaining vision 2030, this paper affirms Abu Dhabi’s path to global leadership in sustainable development. However, this paper also acknowledges the challenges Abu Dhabi faces and recommends the need for the city planners to borrow lessons from other countries that have adopted a sustainable model to build their cities. The focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency forms the bulk of the arguments advanced in this paper.

Aims and Objectives

  • To investigate the progress of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.
  • To establish the main tenets informing the achievement of Abu Dhabi 2030 vision.
  • To compare the progress of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 against similar projects undertaken in the world.
  • To establish how Plan Abu Dhabi accommodates the goal of sustainability in city planning.
  • To find out the problems hindering the attainment of the Abu Dhabi Vision – Sustainability.
  • To find out if there are significant changes made to the initial Abu Dhabi plan.
  • To establish the role of Estidama on the attainment of Abu Dhabi’s vision to be fully sustainable by 2030.

Research Questions

  • What completed projects are there under Plan Abu Dhabi 2030?
  • What philosophies and principles inform Plan Abu Dhabi 2030?
  • How does Abu Dhabi’s vision to be a sustainable city compare with other plans, which have birthed sustainable cities around the world?
  • What are the principles, plan, aims, and objectives of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030?
  • Why have there been adjustments made to Plan Abu Dhabi 2030?
  • What are the influences of Estidama on the attainment of Abu Dhabi’s vision to be sustainable by the year 2030?
  • How can Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 improve?


The research methodology in this paper sought to gather relevant data and compile different databases to have a deeper and conceptual understanding of the research problem. In addition, the research methodology explored different aspects of the research problem by explaining the concept of sustainability in city planning and its relevance to Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. These insights provided a deeper understanding of the potential costs and benefits associated with adopting sustainable construction practices in city planning. Furthermore, these insights showed how the concept of sustainability manifests in Abu Dhabi’s vision to be fully sustainable by 2030.

Research Strategy

Qualitative research was the main research design for this paper (the capability of qualitative research to be a precursor to quantitative research design informed its choice). The flexibility and ability of qualitative research to accommodate case study research information also informed the adoption of the research methodology.18 The usefulness of the qualitative research design was limited to getting a comprehensive conceptualization of the research problem (based on the backdrop of environmental issues in the UAE).

As will be evident in further sections of this study, this paper relies on case studies to develop a framework for the study’s recommendations (the qualitative research design supports the inclusion of such data).19

The complex nature of the research topic also informed the use of the qualitative research design because it exposed the underlying dynamics of the research topic. The simplicity of undertaking the qualitative research design was also a huge attraction for this research because it minimized the cost of undertaking the research.20 Therefore, research costs associated with travelling, seeking appointments, developing questionnaires, (and the likes) decreased in this regard (this advantage was not only a cost advantage but also as a functional advantage).

Data Collection

Many researchers have investigated the concept of environmental sustainability but few studies have investigated the concept of sustainability in Abu Dhabi. For example, numerous pieces of literature study the environmental impact of the construction industry on developed economies like the US and the UK but few studies investigate sustainable construction practices in developing economies (more so, even fewer studies investigate sustainable environmental practices in the UAE).

Based on this understanding, the findings of this study fill a literature gap ignored by many researchers for a long time. However, since there are past studies that have investigated the concept of sustainability in other parts of the world, secondary research forms part of the research sources for this paper. The use of secondary research provided more time to focus on the important parts of the research as opposed to spending a lot of time sourcing for the research information.21

Instances of burnout and exhaustion also decreased in this regard. Furthermore, considering this paper focused on the use of secondary research information, as the main form of data collection, the dependence on population sample was less important. Therefore, significant research was available even with a small case study or a collection of relevant cases.

This use of secondary research positions this paper as a tool for providing a framework for the understanding of sustainability in city planning (and more importantly, in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030). Furthermore, since researchers seldom address sustainable environmental practices in developing countries, the use of secondary research data provided a broader understanding of the research problem. Even though secondary research divides into internal and external sources, this study mainly relied on external sources of data because there was no specific organization that this research sought to address.

The main types of secondary research data used in this paper include published articles in books, journals, and credible online sources (their strong credibility and relevance to the research topic informed the choice of these research sources).22 Based on an empirical understanding of the research problem, the outcomes of the study therefore highlighted sustainable environmental practices in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.

Expert views comprised the main source of primary research data. There was widespread consultation of professionals who have the knowledge about Abu Dhabi’s vision 2030 plan and its progress so far. These experts formed two groups – professionals and practitioners (in the construction and city planning industries). The two groups of experts comprised the population sample. Including professionals and practitioners in the study was a deliberate move to incorporate the views of relevant analysts to analyze the research problem. Based on this strategy, this paper was inclined to seek sociologist and expert views on the topic.

In the same regard, the inclusion of professional views was a good counter measure to verify the information collected from existing secondary data sources. Therefore, the inclusion of professional views provided a suitable ground for the comparison and verification of secondary data (viz-a-viz professional views).23 Through this comparison, it was easier to establish a suitable ground for obtaining information about Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 and the possible cost-effective measures to transform the vision to be more effective and practical.

Online questionnaires were the main data collection tool for obtaining information from the respondents. Six environmental and construction agencies received the questionnaires. Three of these agencies were environmental agencies, while the rest included agencies that broadly operated in the UAE construction industry. The design of the questionnaires sought to gather information about the influence of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 on the city’s goal of achieving sustainability and the measures taken to mitigate the effects of the expanding and vibrant construction industry on the environment.24 The future of the environment and the construction industry provided the focus of the questions asked (these questionnaires were qualitative).

The above research sources provided the groundwork for a meta-analysis, which combined the findings from all data sources to form the framework for the research findings. Therefore, the meta-analysis estimated the true “effect size” of the data collected from the secondary research sources. Comprehensively, it was easy to achieve a systematic review of the research problem by eliminating the less-precise effects of the research information collected from the secondary research sources.

There were several advantages realized from the above meta-analysis. For instance, it was easy to establish the diversity of the researches obtained (from the different types of information sources highlighted in the secondary research information). The inclusion of diverse professional views in the questionnaires informed this diversity. Through the meta-analysis, it was equally easy to derive the statistical testing for all the factors involved throughout the progress of the research. Even though the concept of generalizing findings is a limitation of this study, the meta-analysis helped to generalize the findings of this research to different but related contexts.

Data Analysis and Validity

It was easy to achieve a preliminary validity of the findings by guaranteeing the quality of the respondents and reliability of the secondary information sources. In detail, the quality of sources obtained (books, journals and credible online sources) guaranteed the quality of the secondary research sourced. Comprehensively, the assumption underlying the data collection process was that the information contained from books and journals was error-free and reliable.

Moreover, Chapman affirms that peer-reviewed journals contain dynamic pieces of information and unbiased data, which may stem from including pre-conceived ideas in the research process.25 The quality of the primary data obtained was also guaranteed by the credibility of the respondents obtained (the respondents had significant experiences in incorporating sustainable practices in Abu Dhabi city planning and had acquired sufficient experience studying the same).

The data analysis techniques incorporated in the data review process also strengthened the validity of the data obtained because two credible research analysis techniques were used (coding and member-check techniques). As an interpretive tool, the coding technique sorted and evaluated the expansive information obtained from the secondary data. Indeed, the secondary data obtained included diverse information regarding the research topic but the coding technique aided in sorting out this information and categorizing them into easily understandable data. The coding technique works by assigning different codes to related pieces of information26.

Since the secondary information obtained was diverse, the coding technique helped to assign codes to related information so that it was easier to analyze related literature as opposed to confusing the dynamic information sources (which were difficult to comprehend). The coding technique was beneficial in providing a structured impression of the overall findings.27

The member-check technique played a complementary role to the coding technique by evaluating the credibility, transferability, and accuracy of the information analyzed (from the coding technique). In detail, after the categorization of data (into related subjects) by the coding technique, the member-check technique ensured that the information sourced was factual. The member check technique works by evaluating areas of disparities between the outcomes of the data analysis process and the initial sources of information.28 This technique evaluated both primary and secondary data sources.

Regarding the analysis of the primary research information, the member check technique ensured that the findings of the data analysis process reflected the opinions, ideas, context, and attitudes of the respondents. The same process evaluated the secondary research data because the member check technique ensured there were no significant disparities between the sources of the data and the overall outcome of the data analysis process.29

Constraints on Data

Broadly, obtaining data in the UAE is not an easy process. The government’s control in most aspects of economic, political, and social development is relatively strong and the access to information is not as open as other parts of the world. This rigidity in information access also replicates in corporations and agencies that operate in the UAE. The difficulty in collecting data in the UAE informed the use of online questionnaires because it was easier to obtain information from professionals who would otherwise be ordinarily unavailable for an interview.30

In addition to the structural and legal challenges preventing the free access to information, some constraints on data collection stemmed from the research topic. For example, this paper focused on evaluating Abu Dhabi’s vision 2030 – a 2007 conceived vision (the project is therefore very recent). Consequently, there was little information to gather from the progress of the vision, except for the few completed projects.

Literature Review

Abu Dhabi Plan 2030

Intense negotiations about the social, cultural, and economic makeup of Abu Dhabi conceived the design of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.31 Most of these factors reviewed in this plan depended on the way they influenced the real estate sector (by driving demand). Through the analysis of ideas, themes, and directions, Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 offers a clear framework for the achievement of Abu Dhabi’s development goals.

Some key development goals for Abu Dhabi include sustainability, providing a different environment for economic growth, preservation of Abu Dhabi’s identity and culture, and the provision of a seamless connection between Abu Dhabi and other cities. These goals firmly base their ideals on Abu Dhabi’s cultural and environmental identity to present a flexible and practical framework for the achievement of Abu Dhabi’s development goals.

Principles of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030

The urban structure framework for Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 encompasses crucial tenets of urban framework planning such as land use, transportation, open space, and capital city image.32 The current composition of the urban framework plan does not go into extensive detail but it outlines the intention to cater for the transport, environmental, land use, and open space policies (a good urban development framework may take years to complete).

This plan is a roadmap of principles and policies that accommodate community development and balance the city’s development with its financial and cultural potentials. In detail, the urban development framework expects to cater for the needs of about 3,000,000 people over the next few decades (to the year 2030).33 Experts say the plan can still accommodate more than 5,000,000 people in 2030.34

The urban framework plan may extend beyond the city’s geographic boundaries and administrative regions because the plan includes the urban region of Abu Dhabi and the natural boundaries that affected by the city’s expansion.35 The plan’s design intends to provide the quickest way Abu Dhabi could transform into a sustainable city (but with sufficient detail regarding the important areas of urban change). At the same time, the proposal does not intend to outline all developmental projects in the UAE because it leaves certain developmental aspects of the plan to the communities affected.36

Environmental Sensitivity

Environmental sensitivity forms an important principle of Abu Dhabi’s urban planning framework because Abu Dhabi’s location defines the connection between the desert and the gulf. This geographic characteristic forms a good environment for the proliferation of marine life and mangrove plants. Some of these natural features complement the growth of the country’s fishing industry and food supply.37

For example, Abu Dhabi’s mangrove life supports the country’s fish stock. The strategic importance of the city’s environment demands the setup of a marine life conservancy to regulate all development projects that may interfere with the environment. Nonetheless, the blueprint for Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 outlines the delimitation of conservancy efforts from park borders to the city’s core. Through the observation of these environmental needs, Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 aims to protect the city’s ecological wealth (partly, through the establishment of “sand belts” and “desert fingers”).38

Land Use

The land use policy in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 dictates the city’s need to tame the increasing traffic congestion and protect the natural environment (to preserve the city’s identity). The land use policy also dictates the need to establish different central business districts to ease the pressure on the central business district.39 The plan also outlines the need to establish a central business district within the city’s mainland to cater for the inland population and complement the city’s connectivity and provision of services.

Complementarily, Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council affirms, ‘Hudariyat Island and the southeastern portion of Abu Dhabi Island are marked for future development opportunities, and the Marina Mall area is targeted for additional residential development.’40 The land use policy of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 also dictates the need to set up industries close to their transportation hubs and a distinct urban growth boundary established to prevent the encroachment of human activities on sensitive environmental areas.


Abu Dhabi’s transportation plan is closely associated with the land use plan because Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council affirms that a good transportation plan reflects good land use policies.41 Abu Dhabi intends to reduce its transport congestion by establishing two main transportation hubs in the downtown area and in the new capital district. The development of the two transport hubs will ensure a balanced transport between the two centers of activities.

The city’s transport design also outlines the development of a layered transport network to accommodate the growing human and traffic population. Through this development, the number of cars in the city’s transport network will significantly reduce and the overall driving experience enriched. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council adds, ‘The transportation network should include high-speed rail to distant destinations, a local metro rail, freight rail, a surface network of buses, street cars and light rail, and a fine grain of interconnected streets.’42 In line with the vision to portray Abu Dhabi as a “green city,” the construction of walking routes will ease the transport of people for short distances.

Open Space

The open space concept in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 urban planning framework aims to integrate the previously discussed formal and informal open areas with the country’s broader national park system so that Abu Dhabi citizens can be better integrated with their environment.43 The development of city parks and community recreation areas will also complement the integration of Abu Dhabi’s development projects with the surrounding desert and protected areas.

Currently, two parks in Abu Dhabi preserve the natural environment – Mangrove Park and Lulu Island. The roles of these parks will complement the introduction of tree-lined streets and community green spaces to enhance Abu Dhabi’s environmental appeal.44 Finally, another public space that integrates into the city’s urban planning framework is the introduction of opening public spaces in front of plazas. These spaces provide serene meeting places.

Capital City

Abu Dhabi intends to maintain its status as a capital city even in the wake of rapid infrastructural developments not only within the city but also in other parts of the UAE, (the city’s approach and entry portals will communicate Abu Dhabi’s status as a capital city). Practically, the city’s blueprint aims to establish a lush oasis and grand architectural designs for mosques and government buildings to stand as remarkable sights along Abu Dhabi’s skyline.45

The establishment of processional routes and national monumental infrastructures will also occur to complement Abu Dhabi’s status as a capital city. Since the city’s development plan intends to explore the potential in the districts, several iconic precincts are expected to sprout (they include the cultural district on Saadiyat Island, Palace Row, Embassy District, among others).46 These iconic precincts form a designated national district to host government activities.

Finally, it is important to mention that the urban development framework for Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 provides the broad overview of the project; however, the plan’s building blocks define the fine details of the project. These building blocks define the foundations of the project because they outline how new neighborhoods and districts will be created. The main building blocks for the project include the Emirati communities, urban neighborhoods, desert eco-villages, island eco-villages, central business district revitalizations and streetscape revitalizations – of new and existing streets.47

Goals of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030

The concept of sustainability aims to accommodate Abu Dhabi’s rapidly expanding population without engaging in unsustainable practices or destroying buildings to pave way for population growth. In Abu Dhabi, the concept of sustainability also aims to reverse some of the retrogressive trends that have characterized Abu Dhabi’s development in the past. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council explains that the sustainability of the natural environment, economic welfare, and cultural heritage defines Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.48 Environmental and cultural resources should preserve in this model even in the wake of population growth and cultural interactions.

The fishing industry was a primary characteristic of Abu Dhabi’s economic culture.49 Furthermore, farming became part of Abu Dhabi’s culture when pearling became part of the main activities around Abu Dhabi’s islands and oases. Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 aims to preserve this cultural heritage by maintaining the link between the land and sea.50 This strategy communicates the city’s heritage to future generations. The preservation of local traditions and architecture also forms part of the city’s plan to reserve its cultural heritage. Specifically, through the merger of cultural architects with the city’s lifestyle, the preservation of climate occurs. The city’s skyline, architecture, and other infrastructural projects similarly resonate with the elements of Arab culture.

Economic Sustainability

Like most rapidly expanding cities around the world, Abu Dhabi intends to promote the use of “green” energy to drive its economic agenda. Ironically, oil revenues have formed a huge part of Abu Dhabi’s wealth, but looking forward, the city aims to promote sustainability by exploring alternative energy sources and reducing the dependence on oil energy. Some of the main alternative energy sources explored are wind and solar energies.51

Economically, Abu Dhabi wants to be able to accommodate the city’s growing population by approving more housing projects to accommodate the rapidly expanding population. The city is wary of the negative impact that a population explosion (characterized by insufficient housing) may portend for the city. Moreover, Abu Dhabi aims to educate future generations regarding the importance of upholding sustainable practices in development.

Unique Environment

The concept of having a sustainable environment in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 bases its philosophies on preserving Abu Dhabi’s natural environment (this way, Abu Dhabi is unique to other cities around the world). Here, Abu Dhabi’s master blueprint aims to strike a workable balance between environmental needs and developmental needs. First, the plan aims to identify environmental and economic needs so that the two do not clash. The argument informing Abu Dhabi’s concept of having a sustainable environment is the conviction that protected areas may still develop in the future but it is very difficult to restore depleted environments.52

Promote Evolving Culture

The need for environmental conservation complements the need to adopt an evolving culture, which makes Abu Dhabi a pleasant place to stay (despite the growing population and its pressure on the city’s infrastructure). Key issues in the sustenance of an evolving culture involve ensuring there is enough housing to accommodate the expanding population, and merging traditional and modern ways of living to accommodate different lifestyle choices among the Abu Dhabi’s population.53 These changes conceptualize the acknowledgement of an evolving culture.

Identity and Opportunities

Abu Dhabi’s geography and unique natural resources characterize the city’s natural identity. Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 will strive to preserve this unique identity and opportunities. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council says Abu Dhabi’s unique attributes include,

An authentic and safe but also progressive and open Arab city; a personality garnered from the desert and the sea; a traditional way of life but with the latest 21st century options; and a place of business but also of government and culture.54

The idea behind the preservation of Abu Dhabi’s identity and opportunities lies in the recognition of the city’s sand dunes, and natural islands (the same way the city’s magnificent infrastructure is recognized). Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 therefore strives to ensure the protection of respect for excellence and habitability in the city’s planning blueprint. This blueprint defines the quality and size of the city’s developmental projects. This blueprint will also insulate the city against succumbing to the pressures of persuasive marketing, which may compromise the quality of the city’s development plans. The pervasiveness of comfort and convenience also stretches through most tenets of this plan.


Finally, the concept of connectivity in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 recognizes the need to connect existing city infrastructure with new and expanding geographic regions. For example, the city’s plan intends to connect the downtown areas with new islands, which expect to host most of the new growth areas. This connectivity plan strives to follow a hierarchical system where formal, informal, and biologically significant areas are recognized.55


The concept of sustainability stretches throughout a project’s lifecycle to include the project’s design, construction, and even demolition phases. However, the difficulties in making such projects sustainable challenge the development of project master plans.56 In addition, since sustainability is a multifaceted issue, project planners face complex dilemmas of identifying how these dynamic sustainable plans merge to complement a city’s vision.57

To understand the scope and impact of sustainability, it is important to dissect the concept of sustainability. Lorne explains that the concept of sustainability mainly refers to the push to minimize the impact of construction on the environment.58 The need to strike a balance between preserving the environment and optimizing its economic viability defines this push (In addition, the association of the construction industry with short-term gains and profit-centered motives manifests this need).59 However, as many urban city planners would say, construction has a long-term consideration of quality, efficiency and affordability.

These principles base their ideals on best practices in construction. The adoption of construction best practice occurs in phases where comfort and quality of life improve and environmental conservation occurs. By adhering to the above principles, it is easier to produce environmentally sustainable projects.60 The need to undertake construction projects that have a desirable, social, economic, and environmental impact informs the formulation of sustainable building plans.

Social Sustainability

The concept of social sustainability mainly focuses on project users (after completion). Social sustainability therefore focuses on establishing the users’ current and future needs.61 In the context of this paper, the concept of sustainability should focus on how projects manifest in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 to meet the needs of Abu Dhabi citizens. As the 2030 plan stipulates, conception of citizen needs should occur at the design stage of the project because at this stage, it is easy to have a holistic understanding of how different sustainable projects can merge to make the entire project sustainable.62

The concept of social sustainability not only focuses on the external environment but also on the internal environment (to make its usability as pleasant as possible). For example, some sustainable buildings prefer to use natural light as opposed to artificial light to make the building’s habitation comfortable. The improvement of air quality is also another example of the contribution of sustainable construction practices in urban planning.63

Pollution and waste emissions similarly influence social sustainability in urban planning. Energy efficiency and the welfare of the people who will use the city’s infrastructure also form an important part of understanding social sustainability. Energy efficiency is of special interest to urban planners because most infrastructural projects use a lot of energy. Recent estimates in the US show that about 18% of all the energy used in the country hail from the operation of commercial buildings.64

European statistics show that about 35% of greenhouse gases emitted come from buildings and other construction projects.65 Buildings also occupy huge spaces and account for a vast use of resources in the manufacturing and mining sectors. From this background, it is easy to understand the goal of “green” construction, and most importantly, the concept of sustainability. Buildings designed in an environmentally sustainable manner therefore have a lower use of water, energy, land, and raw materials because their designs minimize their environmental impact throughout their useful lives.66

Environmental Sustainability

The concept of environmental sustainability is a crucial component of sustainable planning. Mainly, environmental sustainability includes different aspects of construction, including making the building more energy efficient and low waste emitting. Different methodologies like installing water reduction measures and coming up with ways to ensure the building produces its energy works towards achieving the above objectives (thereby reducing the reliance on external sources of power/energy).67

Certain aspects of a project’s construction (such as its location or orientation) can also determine its level of energy efficiency or environmental sustainability. For example, buildings constructed far from human populations will likely have a stronger environmental impact because people will use more energy resources to travel to such locations. Therefore, such buildings have a stronger environmental impact on the environment.

However, buildings that seamlessly integrate into existing infrastructure are likely to have a lesser environmental impact because they easily fit into the environment.68 The concept of environmental sustainability also spreads into the use of “green” materials in construction because using “green” energy is a critical part of sustainable construction.

In conventional construction projects, “green” materials improve building efficiency.69 For example, since plastics require less energy to make and less energy to cool (or heat) they may be preferred as “green” materials.70 The use of locally available materials is also another way of promoting environmental sustainability because it not only saves the energy used to transport such materials to the site but also reduces the level of pollution realized if contractors use local materials.

Economic Sustainability

The concept of economic sustainability focuses on saving money from adopting sustainable construction practices in both the short term and long term. For example, the use of local energy is an economically sustainable venture because it uses less fuel in transportation. Similarly, using materials that are easy to install is a correct way of reducing construction costs. Water efficiency is also another critical component of economic sustainability because buildings use water the same way they use energy.

Here, the concept of sustainable construction mainly focuses on how water use minimization occurs and if it is impossible to do so, it focuses on how water can be recycled or reused. Apart from the above dynamics, economic sustainability may also include the observation of building codes, standards, and energy efficiency. Comprehensively, economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and social sustainability constitute the entire concept of sustainability in construction.

Sustainable Projects in Abu Dhabi

Masdar City

Developed by Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, people have touted Masdar city to be among Abu Dhabi’s major sustainable cities. The Masdar project is a product of a bold attempt by Abu Dhabi to solve some of the society’s most pertinent issues – energy use. As UAE exports huge volumes of crude oil to the rest of the world, the Abu Dhabi government intended to its oil revenues to build a sustainable city that would be free from fossil fuels. This $18 billion project is located about 17 kilometers from the city and intends to host about 40,000 people and about 1,500 new businesses.71

The conception of Masdar city developed through an ambitious plan to make the city a technological hub. This technological concept strives to improve Abu Dhabi’s competency in advancing new global energy development. Essentially, the developers of Masdar city thought it fit well with Abu Dhabi’s vision to diversify its economy from oil to a technological hub by merging the inputs of different technology centers into one digital oasis.72

Masdar city will therefore be a playground for technology companies to test their innovative products through the city’s main institution of higher learning – Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Through the success of these new technological inventions, the expectation of developers is for technology companies to commercialize their projects and make Masdar a global exporter of new technology.

This vision is part of a wider plan to make Abu Dhabi a technology producer instead of a technology consumer.73 The involvement of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology reinforce the city’s vision to be a technological center not only for Abu Dhabi but also for the entire world.

The vision to export new technology is captured in the city’s name – Masdar, which means “the producer” or “source” (in Arabic).74

Masdar’s ambitious plans also complement the development’s development of a perimeter wall around the city to prevent desert heat from getting into the city. Furthermore, the city’s plan includes the installation of wind turbines and the observation of narrow gaps between the buildings to make the atmosphere around the city cool for pedestrians to walk. This plan also complements an ambitious plan to construct a trackless podcast system that would see commuters move around the city in taxis that do not have drivers.75 The following image shows these taxis

Driverless Taxis
Figure One: Driverless Taxis76

Such taxis will accommodate a maximum of four passengers (the government will also construct an underground metro line system). Its purpose complements the construction of a high-speed rail system that passes underneath the city to ease large movements of people from the city to the airport and 100 other stations.77 The podcar system is one example of the ambitious plan for the city to test new technologies as part of other plans to set up streetlights using LED technology and build water fountains that work by compressing water from the atmosphere.

Since construction began in 2008, Masdar city has had little progress to show. Currently, only six buildings are complete and a few hundred students occupy the city.78 Part of the slow growth attributes to the recent global financial crisis, but large failures stem from the ambitious nature of the project (in its entirety). The over-ambitious nature of the city planners has forced them to reconsider some of their initial plans and downsize them.79

For example, Masdar’s initial plan was to make the city completely free from fossil fuel but as recent reports show, this vision is unattainable. In addition, the podcar system designed to raise the city 7.5 meters high changed and new systems are currently under exploration.80 Furthermore, the conventional solar generating technology (which uses solar panel arrays) replaced solar panels that would generate solar energy for every building in the city (Masdar Institute of Technology currently uses this technology to power its building). These new challenges have posed great setbacks to the realization of the “Masdar dream” but they have also opened the gates for the exploration of new ideas such as the use of subterranean water reserves for cooling.81

One criticism leveled against the Masdar plan is its similarity to other ambitious construction projects currently undertaken in the UAE for the rich. Indeed, the city may offer a good gated-community to host some of the most modern technologies and infrastructure but critics fear that its completion only offers another playground for the rich. Nonetheless, the city’s progress has since demonstrated that nobody can correctly underpin the details of a sustainable city in advance.

Indeed, it is not easy to develop new cities from nothing because some of the world’s most renowned cities grew over hundreds of years. Developing a city from scratch and expecting its completion within only a few years is therefore a daunting task for most developers. This way, it is crucial to commend Abu Dhabi for trying to build a sustainable city from scratch.

A recent visit by the US secretary of state emphasized the need for Abu Dhabi to follow its schedule in developing Masdar. She underscored the need for the world to recognize that the US believed in Abu Dhabi’s potential to be a sustainable city and this is why the US government is collaborating with Abu Dhabi in making the “Masdar dream” a reality. Its success is therefore going to have a significant and positive implication not only for Abu Dhabi but also for the rest of the world.

Construction projects such as Masdar city and Dubai Pearl are indeed vital for the world not only for the fact that we can learn from its success but also from the fact that we can learn from its weaknesses. Simonis contends that the main lesson learned from the Masdar project is perhaps very simple – building a sustainable city is not about having big budgets but about having small projects and carefully executing them to complement the grand plan of having a sustainable city.82 Pundits affirm the fact that the Masdar plan may not be the city of the future but its progress is definitely going to demonstrate to the world valuable lessons that will help us get closer to the dream of having a sustainable planet.

Dubai Pearl

Dubai Pearl is one green energy initiative in the UAE that rivals other ambitious sustainable projects in Abu Dhabi. The main intention is to build the city on a 20 million square feet land overlooking Palm Juremiah Island.83 This location is at the center of Dubai technology and media free zone to provide an example of an excellent establishment that promotes optimal sustainability. The designers of the projects intend it to be the new benchmark for sustainable communities in the UAE because modern technology expects to outline the framework for the project’s development.84

Through a redefinition of Dubai’s pulse, the Dubai pearl project will provide a 24-hour working community where people can walk, play, and work in one community. This community will increase Dubai’s supply of luxury hotels, homes, and apartments. According to Dubai Pearl website, ‘Dubai Pearl’s prime location will offer an unparalleled combination of free-hold in the convenience of a free zone with luxury, energy efficient sustainability and state-of-the-art technology.’85 About 9,000 people will find accommodation in the community (12,000 more people will work there). The initial handover of the project occurs towards the end of December 2014.86

Dubai Pearl is a classic example of a fully integrated sustainable development project because its designers ensured that the community would be energy efficient to secure the coveted LEED gold certification for energy efficiency. Indeed, the project has set-aside specific recycling plants for paper, glass, water, and food waste. Ambitious plans to set up light and water efficient technologies also ensure the city is going to minimize its environmental impact.

The sustainable model for Dubai Pearl stretches its philosophies (mainly) to environmental and social sustainability. Regarding environmental sustainability, the project intends to create an environment that promotes happiness prosperity and security for all its inhabitants (as part of the project’s goal to promote healthy living).87 To promote the same goal, Dubai Pearl also strives to eliminate the use of cars by establishing environmentally friendly transport systems that do not use fossil fuel. Similarly, as part of the environmental objectives of the project, Dubai Pearl aims to provide beautiful landscaping within working ecosystems (the protection and improvement of the environment is a core pillar to the realization of this vision).

The protection and beautification of the environment will increase the local biodiversity of the environment and improve the access to nature and other open spaces. The design of the water management system has the utmost precision so that it does not infringe on the project’s goal of realizing environmental sustainability. Therefore, to ensure there is sound management of water treatment facilities, there will be a lot of emphasis on the management of surface water, water supply, and water consumption.88 Wastewater treatment mechanisms will also receive the same focus because this issue forms an important part of Abu Dhabi’s environmental success.

Here, the main expectation is that the development project can respond to climate change through energy efficiency and carbon responsibility.89 This ability is enshrined at the design stage of the project. Finally, contractors will use local materials so that minimal environmental impact and landfill occurs.

In terms of the project’s social responsibility, the Dubai pearl creative foundation will be at the forefront in ensuring the project meets community standards and accommodate community needs (the cultural and artistic components of Dubai’s culture preserves in this manner). Artistic components such as film, music and fashion will also integrate with international fashion to create a blend of international and local cultural dynamics.90

The main aim of this strategy is to position Dubai as a cultural center. To achieve this objective, there is a strong quest by the Dubai pearl creative foundation to collaborate with international cultural institutions. An education auditorium, which stands at the center of the city, will complement this goal by sponsoring educational productions (which manifest in educational programs).91 Furthermore, a dedicated campus will be set up and an annual ceremony for celebrating Dubai artists introduced to encourage young and upcoming artists into the art scene.92

Openly, the role of education institutions in easing the goal of making Dubai Pearl a cultural hub is critical because the project aims to provide an opportunity for personal and social development by increasing access to educational facilities. Comprehensively, Dubai pearl will have a sustainable identity that integrates people and community elements for the establishment of a thriving community where people can live, work, and raise their children.

So far, the project design plan is commendable, but like other ambitious projects in UAE, critics have questioned the viability of the project.93 One criticism leveled against the Dubai Pearl project is the scanty details regarding the sustainable model of the project. For example, critics consider the environmental sustainability plan to be weak because it is thin and lacks sufficient details.94 Hope explains that while local authorities in Dubai have done a commendable job by establishing plants for recycling waste in the city, there is still a lot more to be done to ensure Dubai (and its complementary satellite communities) attains full sustainability.

The above environmental criticisms only highlight a small part of the challenges that have clouded the Dubai pearl plan. Hope explains that massive delays characterized the project because of the lack of sufficient investor confidence.95 Indeed, because major investors pulled out of the project recently, the project was set back $3.8 billion.96 For example, the Dubai International financial center pledged $3 billion for the completion of the project in exchange for about 29 floors in the plush business district but after committing only $13 million, the investment group lost its commitment to the project.97 Consequently, there has not been enough work going on at the site.

Again, much of the loss in investor confidence can be attributed to the 2008 global real estate crisis, but the challenges facing Dubai Pearl project largely reflect the challenges facing other ambitious projects in the UAE – funding. Indeed, developers have often faced a great challenge of securing the support of global investors after the 2008 crisis. To compound this problem, UAE is faced with another challenge of an oversupply of office spaces and luxury home housing (it is estimated that there is going to be a 50% office vacancy throughout most of Dubai’s commercial establishments in 2030).98

The Arab spring also dented the prospects of securing investor confidence to direct their money to the UAE. Investors are therefore cautious to invest their money in the Emirates because there are fears of political instability and the lack of a ready market for their investments. Hope explains that unless there are customers who are waiting in line for office spaces (or other forms of real estate products), the Emirates are still going to face the challenge of securing investor confidence.99

However, not all hope is lost (even in the wake of low investor confidence) because the project pioneers recently embarked on a road show in Asia to seek new investors. So far, information surrounding this initiative is scanty but Hope quoted the project spokesperson who stated, stakeholders should expect significant success.100


In 2008, the Abu Dhabi planning council launched an ambitious project called Estidama.101 In Arabic, Estidama means sustainability. Many observers have voiced this project as Abu Dhabi’s key to sustainability.102 This vision centers on providing a careful balance between economic, environmental, social, and cultural needs of the Abu Dhabi society for the betterment of its citizens. Estidama complements Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 (it is equally a first of its kind in the Middle East).

The Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council is the main project driver of this dream but its role complements the work of other agencies in Abu Dhabi. These agencies all share a common vision of making Abu Dhabi a sustainable city. Jamali explains that Estidama aims to introduce a new concept of coexistence where culture and the environment work within the framework of Abu Dhabi lifestyle to benefit the current and future generations.103

In fact, the Abu Dhabi Government further elaborates that ‘the key mission of Estidama is to create a new sustainability framework to guide the way and enable adaptation when the new concept takes shape’.104 This program equally aims to promote the concept of sustainable living by including the input of all stakeholders (including the community, policy makers, and business people).

Principles of Estidama

Similar to other principles of sustainability discussed in this paper, Estidama bases its ideas on the principles of economy, society, culture, and environment to encompass a holistic approach to sustainability (these principles also provide a multidimensional approach to the execution of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030). It is expected that once the program ends, different aspects of Abu Dhabi life will be positively affected, including the ‘school curriculum, investment decisions by sovereign wealth funds, infrastructure planning, evaluation and implementation, the health of land and marine environment and the sustainable use of food and water’.105

Meanwhile, the main preoccupation of the Estidama plan is to regulate urbanization by influencing the design of new projects in the city (the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council spearheads these initiatives). Brebbia explains the need for Abu Dhabi to exhibit a lot of commitment and leadership if it is to achieve its ultimate goal of sustainability.106 In addition, to achieve the same goal (environmental sustainability), these tools also need to merge with the industry’s capability to simplify the realization of a sustainable vision.

With this realization, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council has devised four main tools to achieve a sustainable dream for Abu Dhabi – regulatory and code alignment, the pearl rating system, pilot projects and stakeholder participation and educating and training new personnel to implement the Estidama project.107

Pearl Rating System

Estidama created the Pearl rating system to regulate all development projects in Abu Dhabi. Since 2010, this rating system has guided all development projects in Abu Dhabi.108 To realize the goals of the pearl rating system, all developers, planners, and designers review their projects to ensure they are in harmony with the goals of the rating system.

There are many advantages associated with the pearl rating system. Practically, the pearl rating system evaluates all development projects to establish if they augur well with the city’s goal of sustainability. This way, the pearl rating system ensures maximum compliance to the city’s “sustainability” goals. Projects that do not meet the standards of the rating system are therefore subject to further review until they meet the set standards.

Another benefit associated with the pearl rating system is its ability to provide a proper regulatory framework for the achievement of sustainable goals in Abu Dhabi. It is inadequate to require new developments to observe the principles of sustainable development without specifying the right standards of sustainability. The pearl rating system provides these standards. For example, some of the tenets of the pearl rating system are energy efficiency, water conservation, waste minimization and the use of local materials instead of foreign or far-fetched materials. The pearl rating system therefore rates new developments according to such guidelines. These guidelines offer the framework for the achievement of the Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.

The pearl community rating system (a subset of the pearl rating system) ensures that all new projects adopt a community approach in their design and implementation processes. This way, the pearl rating system supports the inclusion of a holistic approach to sustainable development. In other words, a framework for including all stakeholders in city development manifests and all parties are able to engage in significant discussion regarding future projects. This approach increases community participation in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. Community members are therefore able to share the vision of making Abu Dhabi a sustainable city and work towards this goal.

Finally, another benefit associated with the pearl rating system is its ability to cement different facets of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 and more importantly, the entire vision of sustainability. In other words, the pearl rating system pieces together the main pillars of this vision and provide a framework where people work to achieve this vision. For example, the pearl rating system provides a platform for the integration of the pillars supporting Estidama.

This collaboration occurs through an interdisciplinary approach that ensures all significant processes end in an effective and sustainable manner. Comprehensively, projects that comply with sustainability standards are often recognized using specific awards. To ensure the pearl rating system is strictly observed, Estidama supports the training of new employees to oversee the implementation of the program (the credit clarification system was introduced to fulfill this objective).

Estidama’s Alignment to Plan Abu Dhabi 2030

Estidama’s principles align with the goals of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. For example, like Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, the principles of Estidama outline sustainability as the underlying factor for all development projects in Abu Dhabi. The commitment to sustainability shows that Estidama and Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 share the same values and ideals. Therefore, while Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 lays out the plan of sustainability, Estidama acts as the symbol for the achievement of this plan.109

Estdama promotes the mindset of sustainability that achieves Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. To support the goals of Estidama, UPC has collaborated with relevant authorities to ensure that “sustainability” occurs in all aspects of development. This initiative shows the commitment of UPC to go beyond the vision of realizing sustainable projects throughout the world by introducing new tools to promote the advancement of global capital. From this position, UPC stands as a pivotal factor in the achievement of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 because it plays a regulatory role in all new development projects undertaken under this vision.

Abu Dhabi Vision

With a keen focus on ensuring Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 succeeds, there has been significant progress made to ensure the Abu Dhabi vision materializes. However, as mentioned in this paper, soon after the global financial crisis, the failure of some investors to meet their financial obligations derailed the Abu Dhabi vision. Despite these setbacks, Abu Dhabi has not let its eyes off its 2030 goals of diversifying its economy from being dependent on oil to real estate and tourism industries.

This paper demonstrates that most of these developments manifest in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. Significant progress also occurred as a step towards the realization of the Abu Dhabi vision. Nonetheless, since Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 has a stronger focus on real estate development and urban planning, most of the progress made centers on real estate development.

Real Estate Development

Real Estate development is the hallmark of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. In fact, most of the projects outlined in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 strive to complement the goal of diversifying UAE’s economy from oil into real estate and tourism. Therefore, from this vision, real estate developments stand as a pivotal component of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030.110 At this point, it is crucial to highlight that Al Reem, Saadiyat, Yas and Al Maryah islands host many real estate developments in Abu Dhabi.

Al Reem Island

Occasionally, people perceive Al Reem Island to be the ‘Emirates Pearl Island.’111 Experts have considered it an excellent waterfront that is going to position Abu Dhabi as a tourist hub. Unlike other man made islands in the Emirates, Al Reem Island sits on a natural land mass, which is located only 300 meters from Abu Dhabi city.112 Its distance from Abu Dhabi airport is only 20 minutes and the construction of two bridges ease their connection.

Geographically, the island covers an area of 6.5 million square meters.113 Its construction is under the flagship of Abu Dhabi vision 2030 and three developers are currently spearheading its completion – Tamouh Investments, Sorouh, and Al Reem Investments. Tamouh Investment is the biggest shareholder in the project because it owns 60% of the developments while Sorouh and Al Reem share ownership of the remaining stake (equally).114

The ongoing project on the island subdivides according to the stakes held by the three developers described above. For example, Tamouh investment oversees a major project called the Pearl of the Emirates. This development includes the construction of 15 towers for residential housing, one commercial tower and a five star hotel to offer the complete package of business and residential housing.115 Comprehensively, these projects will cost more than $550,000,000 dollars.116

Tamouh investment also undertakes the construction of Marina Square. Marina Square is going to be a mixed community development that houses commercial and residential developments.117 The square will cover about 13.2 million square feet. Most of the development projects in the square will be residential (70%) while commercial projects consist only 30% of total investments in the square. The Abu Dhabi government explains the composition of the projects in the Square by stating, ‘the project includes a collection of 14 high-rise waterfront towers including Marina Heights (one and two) by Profile Group Properties, 49-floored Tala Tower by Sorouh Real Estate and 50-floored Ocean Terrace Residence by First Gulf Bank (FGB).’118

The last project completed by Tamouh Investment is the construction of Addax port. The construction of this port comprises of five projects. In turn, these five projects comprise the development of one commercial tower and four residential towers.

Al Reem Island has gained prominence among international investors because it allows foreigners to use their land under lease arrangements. Most of the lease agreements are on a 99-year basis.119 Like other Islands currently under construction, Al Reem Island is going to host several commercial and residential establishments. The Abu Dhabi government says, ‘the project includes important amenities such as schools, medical clinics, shopping malls, restaurants, a 27-hole golf course, hotels, resorts, spas, gardens and beaches.’120 These social amenities will improve the lifestyles of about 200,000 people who will reside on the island.

Sorouh is the second real estate developer at Al Reem Island and owns 20% of all developments in the Island. This developer’s role is to construct Shams Abu Dhabi (the “sun” of Abu Dhabi). The project will cost about to $7 billion.121

The project will also cover a quarter of the island (14.2 million square feet).122 About 45,000 people will reside in the Island. Like other projects undertaken by Tamouh Investment, 90% of all projects undertaken by Sorouh are residential developments while only 10% of the projects will be for commercial or recreational purposes. Abu Dhabi government explains that the entire project ‘contains around 100 land plots providing 22,000 residential units. The entrance of the development will feature the Shams Gate, a building development (comprising eight buildings), which includes the 74-storey Sky Tower and 65-storey Sun Tower.’123

Finally, Reem Investment claims 20% of all real estate developments in Al Reem Island. The main project that Reem Investment oversees is the construction of Najmat Abu Dhabi (star of Abu Dhabi).124 Najmat Abu Dhabi will be a waterside community developed through the inclusion of contemporary Arabian architecture. These contemporary architectural forms will aid in the design of schools, transport networks, and green parks.

In hindsight, the inclusion of Arabian architecture will be a way for the project to uphold its cultural sustainability concept (according to Plan Abu Dhabi 2030). After following the principles of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 discussed in this paper, the construction of Najmat Abu Dhabi will have 55% open spaces. This land harbors shaded pathways and green parks. In addition, the Abu Dhabi government explains that

Najmat Abu Dhabi will have several marinas (a Bay Centre Marina, Residential Marina and Resort Marina), which are linked by a canal that travels through the development from northwest to southeast. The Bay Center Marina, which is the largest of the three, will be the business, entertainment, and retail center of the development with two 80-storey buildings at the heart.125

Najmat Abu Dhabi project occupies about a quarter of the island and house more than 80,000 people (its completion will cost about $8 billion).126 Comprehensively, significant progress has occurred in Al Reem Island because the region just announced the completion of the highest penthouse bridge not only in the UAE but around the world too.127 This penthouse bridge stands 245 meters high and holds residential buildings as well. The construction work on three bridges merging the 65-storey residential development is also complete. The construction company building Marian square also recently announced the completion of the project after handing over 3,000 residential units.128

Saadiyat Island

Apart from Al Reem Island, the development of Saadiyat Island is also another flagship project of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. Saadiyat Island is home to some projects, which have reported significant progress over the last few years. Saadiyat Island stretches across an area of 27 square kilometers (across Abu Dhabi’s shoreline). According to a 2007 press release, Saadiyat Island was going to be the largest mixed development project in the UAE.129

Most of the projects currently ongoing in the Island complement Abu Dhabi’s vision of cultural sustainability. Indeed, only 500 meters away from Abu Dhabi city, Saadiyat Island will be a cultural hub. The cultural connotation informing the identity of the Island stems from the Arabic interpretation of Saadiyat to mean happiness.130 However, in May 2009, a Human rights report showed that there is a lot of irony regarding the perception that Saadiyat Island is a hub of happiness (considering many workers are laboring on the island under appalling conditions).131

There are some differences between the building projects currently ongoing at Saadiyat Island and other construction projects in other islands. For example, Saadiyat’s main plan comprises of six districts, which are supposed to host more than 30 hotels and three marinas (other developments include the construction of residential and commercial buildings).132 The construction of two lanes (ten lanes each) will also improve city’s road infrastructure to connect the Island with Abu Dhabi. This transportation network shows that Saadiyat is not going to be a completely eco-friendly city because people will use cars as the main form of transport. Unlike Masdar and other projects, the Saadiyat project is therefore less eco-friendly. Nonetheless, the $27 billion project will host about 130,000 people.133

Since the inception of the Saadiyat project, developers have reported significant progress. For example, Saadiyat Beach residences are complete and are now up for lease (people will occupy the resorts by November 2012).134 The construction of low-rise apartments is also nearing completion. In fact, the first phase was completed in 2012 and 285 apartments are ready for occupancy. The second phase of the project will end in 2013 to add more housing units (210 apartments) to the existing number.135

The construction of these apartment blocks occurred using Mediterranean and Arabic themes to preserve the Arabian culture. Some community facilities for the residents will open in 2013. Some of these facilities include education centers and shopping malls.136

In addition, the main contractor on Saadiyat Island (Tourism Development and Investment Company) has been easing the completion of major real estate investments in the region. Apart from the completion of the Saadiyat Island Resort and Saadiyat Beach Residences, the construction and transformation of the Eastern Mangrove project is also according to schedule. On completion, the project eases the growth of a marine park (1.2 kilometers along Abu Dhabi’s shoreline).137

This project is part of the eco-sustainability of Abu Dhabi, although Heavy Industries Theming Corp. considers the wider Saadiyat project to aim at the goal of making Saadiyat a “cultural Mecca” of the Middle East.138 Through this cultural enrichment, Saadiyat Island attracts many tourists to the city. This goal complements another goal of making Saadiyat Island an international tourist hub where tourists do not only engage in commercial activities but also spare the time to marvel at the city’s architectural icons and natural landscapes.139 Heavy Industries Theming Corp. affirms that Saadiyat Island

will be the only place in the world to house architecture by five Pritzker prize recipients – Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Norman Foster, Tadao Ando, and Zaha Hadid.’ Complementing the goal of making Abu Dhabi a cultural hub is the construction of major art museums such as ‘the Louvre and Guggenheim museums, as well as the Zayed museum.140

Conceptualized from environmentally friendly ideologies, Saadiyat Island is close to downtown Abu Dhabi and the city’s main airport. Therefore, the plan is to minimize the energy used to transport people (or tourists) from the airport or Abu Dhabi mainland to the “cultural Island”. This design promotes Saadiyat Island as an environmentally friendly place.

Despite the commendable progress of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, some projects have been on the backside. Most of these projects are in line with the cultural sustainability plan. Some of the construction projects that have not began includes the construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museums, the construction of Louvre Museum and the transformation of Saadiyat Island into a sustainable cultural centre.141 In the last quarter of 2012, the government will award the tender for the construction of Louvre Museum, as its construction will end in 2015. Heavy Industries Theming Corp. observes that these stalled projects will soon restart.142

Al Maryah Island

Al Maryah Island is going to host the new Abu Dhabi central business district. Already, some parts of the project ended. For example, the first phase of the project incorporated the construction of Sowwah Square and since its completion; business activities are ongoing in the area. Sowwah Square stands on a 450,000 square meters plot and accommodates four major business towers.143 The business towers will increase the commercial office space on the island by 180,000 and will similarly provide a beautiful view of the Abu Dhabi skyline. These four commercial towers will also form a ring around the newly constructed premise for Abu Dhabi Stock exchange (climate-controlled pedestrian pathways link the buildings).

Sowwah Square will also have a two-tier road network that upholds the elements of sustainability and functionality in mind.144 Sowwah Square will therefore be a leader in environmental preservation and energy conservation. The developments of these two pillars inform the move to grant most facets of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 a LEED certification. The Island also accommodates two five star hotels which provides accommodation for business people whenever they are in the city. Most of the development projects in the area ended. Gulf Construction explains,

Sowwah Square, the heart of the new Central Business District and the centre of the district’s commercial and retail space, is near completion. Tower One, Al Sila, has been completed, while Towers Two, Three and Four, Al Sarab, Al Maqam and Al Khatem respectively will be operational in the third quarter of 2012.145

The relocation of Abu Dhabi stock exchange is also nearing completion and its handover will occur before the end of 2012. The construction of Galleria shopping mall (a premium shopping mall) is also nearing completion and its handover will occur in the third quarter of 2013. The construction of Rosewood Abu Dhabi (a new five star hotel) is also nearing completion and its handover will occur before the end of 2012.

This five star hotel stands along Abu Dhabi’s shoreline and as Gulf Construction contends, the hotel will offer premium accommodation and a fine-dining experience to not only business executives but also tourists and other people visiting the city. Concerning the construction of this hotel, Gulf Construction says, ‘the 34-storey landmark hotel will consist of 189 rooms and suites, 58 serviced residences, 73 residences for annual lease and four penthouses, all offering dramatic views of the Arabian Gulf and the Abu Dhabi skyline.’146

Rosewood also contains a state-of-the-art fitness center, spa, and an outdoor terrace pool to entertain the visitors. Business executives will enjoy the hotel’s amenities for business conferencing such as ‘extensive Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) facilities including 2,146 sq m (23,100 sq ft) of indoor meeting facilities, two ballrooms, fully-integrated video conferencing facilities, numerous boardrooms and a 24-hour full service business centre’147

The construction of this hotel facility incorporates Middle Eastern architecture as part of the city’s goal to be culturally sustainable. In detail, classic Middle Eastern designs informed the hotel’s architectural design (as part of a way to incorporate Middle Eastern heritage into the city’s 2030 plan).148 The building’s design also includes important facets of environmental sustainability such as the provision of lighting areas that allow the penetration of natural light into the building to save energy and related costs. This architectural component is common for most buildings in the city and is not only visible in the building’s interior, but also its external design (because reflective glass forms part of the building’s exterior).

The reflective glass reflects the daytime light to create a daytime shimmer, while at night, it provides night illumination to complement Abu Dhabi’s beautiful skyline. Finally, the base of the building is made of glass and stone as a representation of the dynamic uses of the building. Furthermore, the combinations of the two building materials provide a resort-like feel in an urban setting as the buildings overlook the Abu Dhabi waterfront.149

The completion of the above buildings complement a wider master plan, which hinges on the completion of four construction phases covering 114 hectares to accommodate new residential buildings, medical facilities, education institutions, commercial buildings and luxury business hotels. According to the city’s vision, Al Maryah Island will be the new retail hub for luxury brands. About 30,000 inhabitants will reside in the Island.150

Complementing the Island’s grand plan is the development of a 60-hectare plot, which is set to host 37 plots (among Sowwah Square). This project is at an advanced stage. Along the streets, surrounding Al Maryah Island will be climate-controlled pedestrian corridors (which will be adjacent to Sowwah Square and will host an excellent global multispecialty healthcare facility). Cleveland Clinic is the name of this healthcare facility.

The construction of Cleveland Clinic is a product of intense negotiations and collaborations ongoing between Mubadala Healthcare and US-based, Cleveland Clinic.151 This clinic specializes in the treatment and management of acute conditions. Interestingly, as opposed to other development projects, which are part Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, the development of the Cleveland Clinic does not augur well with the plan’s vision to be culturally sustainable. Indeed, the adoption of the “Cleveland” name contravenes the cultural sensitive clause in the overall city plan. Nonetheless, the hospital facility is still under construction, but on completion, it will have 490 beds.152

The facility will also have different floors to accommodate new treatment and diagnostic centers (these treatment centers provide a place where Abu Dhabi citizens may seek treatment services that would be available abroad). So far, the contractors are optimistic that the completion of the treatment facility occurs in 2013.153

The development of the healthcare facility will also occur alongside the construction of new hotel buildings like the four-season hotel in Abu Dhabi (some of the auxiliary works for these projects are complete). Some of the completed projects have also attracted renewed interest in Al Maryah real-estate sector and since 2009; investors bought about seven prime plots. Regarding the sale of the prime plots, the Mubadala Real Estate and Infrastructure Executive Director says,

These companies include the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) and Al Hilal Bank, who are both developing commercial towers within their invested plots, as well as Taiwan’s largest developer Farglory, who has invested in four mixed-use plots for a residential, retail and leisure precinct.154

To protect the cultural identity of Abu Dhabi, the Al Maryah new business district changed its name to Al Maryah – the Islands name. Gulf Construction claims that this renaming marks a new period in the strategic plan to develop the island.155

A previous renaming of an old historical site in Liwa – Al Maryah village, inspires the renaming of the Island. This place had the identity of a commercial village and from this background; Al Maryah gained its reputation as a commercial hub as well. The renaming of Al Maryah is therefore part of the city’s global vision to be culturally sustainable and part of a larger quest to make Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 part of the national heritage. Even though more than 30 companies have subscribed to the Al Maryah vision, the initial name of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 will not change.156

The construction of Sowwah Square sees the accommodation of Abu Dhabi Security Exchange (the contractors are optimistic that they will meet their construction deadline). On the same island, the construction of Mubadala Real estate and construction project is also underway to accommodate an excellent mall that will host several luxury brands (here, contractors are also optimistic that they will meet their deadline). Galleria Mall will be the main mall on the island (its construction is part of a wider plan to construct more upscale retail outlets in Abu Dhabi). Regarding the construction of this mall, Gulf Construction adds,

The proportion of high-end retail will rise further with the launch of luxury stores in the retail podium of Etihad and Nation Towers, Boutik at the Sun and Sky Tower and Paragon Bay Mall on Reem, the Danet Mall, and the Yas Mall.157

The construction of Sowwah Square is not like other conventional projects in Abu Dhabi because sustainability is a crucial concept in the project. Since sustainability informs most development aspects of the project, several aspects of the plan meets international standards in environmental sustainability. Consequently, the US Green Building Council has awarded different facets of the project green certifications.

These certifications appraise different aspects of the project’s development including energy conservation, water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality (among other important areas of sustainability). Considering the construction of Sowwah Square has attained LEED Gold certification, most other developments of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 will be designed to live up to the same expectations. Furthermore, not only are future projects expected to meet international guidelines of sustainability, they are also expected to live up to the expectations of the Estidama principles.

Since there is a strict adherence to international and local sustainability standards, the design of the Sowwah Square occurred in a manner to safeguard the project’s consistency in upholding the principles of sustainability. The use of recycling materials and low-toxic materials are just a few examples of the project’s design process, which strive to uphold the principles of sustainability. Other design functions include the use of illuminating glass in construction so that natural light may substitute artificial light. Gulf Construction also explains that other facets of sustainability include ‘the use of ventilated, double-skin facades to insulate buildings against extreme temperatures, while a system of active and passive sun shading elements controls light and heat gain, also dramatically reduces energy demand.’158

The building’s outdoor presence is also going to be designed using sustainable concepts of water efficiency. A condensation system that collects water from outdoor green spaces provide a self-maintenance system that saves the amount of water used in such buildings. The building’s exterior will also be comprised of illuminated windows, which also act as solar panels to generate more energy for the building. The image below demonstrates this concept

Sowwah Square
Figure Two: Sowwah Square159

The buildings’ design therefore maximizes energy conservation. Regarding this statement Gulf Construction says,

The unitized curtain-wall facade of the building features external horizontal laminated glass sunshades with 50 per cent opaque visions. The shades at the large east and west facades of Towers Three and Four rotate according to the sun path, with the operable shade motors and controls integrated in the building management system (BIM).160

This energy conservation model also replicates in the installation of lighting systems. The lighting system dims or brightens according to external lighting or the weather. In fact, during the day, the lighting switches off automatically. Through the above economical models, the fabric of Al Maryah Island incorporates the concept of sustainability and replicates it throughout all aspects of the district’s development. Some of these projects include the provision of alternative methods of transport, the use of non-portable water for irrigation, use of low-flow plumbing fixtures, the use of locally available and recyclable materials, the use of low-emitting materials and the storage and collection of recyclables.161

Yas Island

Similar projects like the ones ongoing in Al Maryah Island are also underway in Yas Island. The construction of the Yas Mall is one such example. The construction of Yas Island is a $29 million project, which is expected to host the biggest mall in Abu Dhabi, a water park, and a theme park (the construction of the 15-hectare theme park is nearing completion – the park will open in early 2013).162 Among other ambitious projects under construction is the development of a new waterfront in the island, which will host about 55,000 inhabitants (UPC recently approved this project).

Inhabitants of Yas Island live in distinct communities mapped by Yas Island’s project design. The China State Construction Engineering Cooperation has seen the potential in these projects and has secured a $2 billion construction deal on the same island to build new skyscrapers accommodating hotels, offices, and housing units.163

Comprehensively, in 2012, there has been renewed focus to keep Abu Dhabi vision 2030 alive. Iconic skyscrapers of the projects are nearing completion and the focus is soon about to change to the construction of low and medium term structures. The focus is also slowly shifting to the development of social housing structures such as the $1.9 billion Shamkha development, which is under construction.164 This social housing development project will host about 130,000 people. So far, the real estate development projects have shown good progress and the remaining sectors will end on time.165

Reduction of Carbon Footprint

Apart from real estate developments, vision Abu Dhabi 2030 has also made significant milestones in its reduction of carbon footprint. This reduction occurred through the adoption of greening projects and the introduction of the previously discussed Estidama principles, which govern most new construction projects in the city. The progress of the Masdar project is also another highlight of the 2030 plan to reduce Abu Dhabi’s carbon footprint.

True to the flamboyance and the publicity that the launch of the ambitious project elicited, significant gains occurred to reduce Abu Dhabi’s carbon footprint by relying on sustainable technologies in the operation of the Masdar project.166 Indeed, Masdar city has emerged as a global hub for renewable energy technologies. The first phase has seen the inception of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the Masdar community (the second phase is nearing completion).

According to its vision of being a centre for renewable technology and green energy, the Masdar plan has started to attract new international investors such as Siemens (the company’s Middle East Global Centre is now under construction in Masdar). In fact, this construction project won the coveted MIPIM architectural award because it met new architectural standards and energy efficiency guidelines. From these new guidelines, the centre will realize a 45% reduction in energy consumption.167 The centre will also use half the water resources it would have otherwise used in the conventional setting.

Development of Nuclear Power Plants

The development of new power plants has also been a flagship project in Abu Dhabi. Although the 2011 Japan nuclear disaster increased Abu Dhabi’s scrutiny in the development of a nuclear power plant, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation recently gave the permission to construct a new power plant in Baraka (west of Abu Dhabi).168 This power plant will produce about 1400 MW. In addition, a Korean consortium also won a $20.4 billion tender to construct new nuclear power plants in the UAE.169

The Emirate’s hydrocarbon center has also witnessed an increased flow of investments. The state oil producer alone has pledged $40 billion worth of new investments in the sector. These investments will spread between 2012 and 2014 to cater for the growing demand for gas (which will grow at 15% annually).170 Key energy projects, which have since ended include the construction of a gas and oil pipeline from Habshan to Fujairah. This pipeline will ease the export of UAE oil because it gives it free access to the Indian Ocean.

Transport Hubs

The transformation of Abu Dhabi international airport is one flagship project of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 (Turkish contractors will undertake the $3 billion project). The construction of the Midfield terminal complex is the main activity in this project and it will expand the airport’s capacity of handling passenger and cargo. Its commencement occurs in 2017 where more than 40 million people annually will use the airport’s facility. So far, the expansion of the airport is according to schedule, especially after the approval of the contract to expand the Midfield terminal complex.171

In addition to the expansion of airport facilities, Abu Dhabi has also embarked on an ambitious plan to expand and modernize existing ports. The expansion and modernization of Khalifa port is one such expansion. Indeed, the new Khalifa port is going to be semi automated (UAE does not have many automated ports). The Khalifa port (and an adjacent Halifa Industrial zone) rivals other ports around the world and its capacity revolutionizes Abu Dhabi’s industrial potential.

Current plans show that the modernization of this port is going to attract new foreign trade investments because the UAE government has claimed they will be free from duty. According to this design, there are new plans to set up an aluminum hub in Kizad. Finally, the construction of a $10 billion ultra-modern rail network to bridge Abu Dhabi city and its satellite metropolis is also according to schedule. This transport network will be the Etihad Rail and Passenger Network and will complement Abu Dhabi’s vision of reducing its carbon footprint and energy emissions by 2030.172


Part of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is to empower Emirati citizens to improve and sustain its plan for a sustainable city. Compared to other tenets of the vision, it has been relatively easy to accomplish this goal. Abu Dhabi Education Council has been on the forefront to champion this vision. So far, the council has provided scholarships for high-performing Emirati students (across the UAE) to enable them further their educational goals and contribute to the city’s plan to be sustainable by 2030.173

Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) has also collaborated with other institutions such as the Tourism Development and Education Company to promote a scholarship program, which fosters the sustainability vision for the city. The Scholarship and division guidance manager for both organizations stated, ‘ADEC is keen to provide greater opportunities for students to allow them to continue their higher education and create a stronger alignment between the human capital resources and labor market requirements to help achieve Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030.’174

The above commitment aims to increase the responsiveness of Abu Dhabi students to accommodate other cultures and better represent their own (the program however skews to accommodate high performing students). According to Al Mansoori (the project coordinator),

The program targets high achieving Emirati students with G12 or equivalent graduation certificates, who achieve a score of 85% or more. Current university students can also apply for receiving scholarships if they achieved a minimum GPA of 3.0 and completed 30 credit hours. Scholars will study disciplines most required to meet the goals of Abu Dhabi priority sectors.175

So far, about 25 students have benefitted from this partnership after enrolling in the Museum Studies scholarship program (this strategy is part of the cultural sustainability vision of the city’s plan). The 25 students came from a larger process that involved more than 1000 applications from different institutions around the UAE. Online application eased the application process where students could better manage and follow up their applications without experiencing the hassles of travelling to the appropriate offices. The fruit of this initiative is however yet to be realized.

Case Studies

The concepts of sustainable cities inform the commitment to minimize energy use and maximize productivity from existing energy sources. The book, Ecocity Berkeley: Building Cities for a Healthy Future, introduced the concept of eco-cities to plan for sustainable cities. At this point, it is crucial to highlight that there is no identifiable term for the concept of sustainable cities but there is a widespread agreement that sustainable cities should meet present needs without compromising the future.

Indeed, sustainable cities should exhibit self-reliance. In this regard, cities should be able to meet their needs (internally) without relying too much on other regions. Sustainable cities should also be able to power their activities with renewable resources. The crust of this specification is to reduce the overall carbon footprint and reduce the level of pollution (because of these specifications, recycling, effective land use, and the effective use of resources form important pillars of sustainability). However, the lack of agreement regarding the components of sustainable cities has elicited wide variations regarding the way planners design sustainable cities.176

Current statistics show that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities and other forms of urban establishments.177 The growing rural-urban migration has created a problem for city developers because unplanned population growths endanger the potential of urban cities to be sustainable. The quest to promote sustainability complements the willingness of city developers to promote human interaction in city dwellings in an environmentally friendly manner.

The realization of this goal debunks the common belief that rural communities are more sustainable than urban dwellings. Indeed, since people closely integrate in cities, it is easier to save resources in transportation and distribution. Practically, many cities around the world have embraced the trend to be sustainable. This paper highlights some of them below

Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver is among the world’s best examples of a sustainable city. Its success manifests from its consistent ranking among the best sustainable cities in the world. Like the Abu Dhabi vision, the Vancouver vision outlines that the city should be the “greenest” city in the world by 2020.178 Vancouver already has a good ranking in the production of hydroelectric power. In fact, D’Estries explains that the city currently leads the world in this regard because about 90% of its energy comes from hydroelectricity. Vancouver also depends on sustainable energy such as wind and solar power to complement its national energy supply.

Recent rankings show that Vancouver enjoys some of the lowest carbon emissions in the world.179 This situation stems from the reduction of carbon emissions in the car industry after the city set up biking lanes to ease the movement of people, in and around the city. By 2020, the city of Vancouver aims to reduce (further) its carbon footprint by another 30% after it strictly reinforced environmentally friendly building codes. This vision complements new building guidelines that show the need for all new buildings to be carbon neutral. Existing buildings are also required to increase their energy efficiency by about 20%.180

Despite Vancouver’s commendable record in adopting sustainability, D’Estries claims that more initiatives may occur to accelerate the city’s goal of becoming truly sustainable. For example, an untapped potential for Vancouver is the use of electric cars. Vancouver has already set up an association for electric vehicles known as the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association. This association reports that there are only 20 pure electric cars in the city.181

The main problem hindering the use of electric vehicles in Vancouver is their limited availability. However, D’Estries claims, prospects for increasing the supply of pure electric vehicles are improving with the launch of Nissan Leaf and other brands in Canada. In addition, the limited charging stations for electric vehicles have hampered efforts to increase the use of electric vehicles (the city has outlined plans to change this situation). In the next decade, the construction of more charging stations will occur. D’Estries therefore projects that electric car sales will comprise about 15% of the total car sales by 2020.182

San Francisco, US

San Francisco city is among the most densely populated cities in the US. However, the city enjoys wide acclaim for adopting sustainable practices ahead of other cities in the US. The city has scored highly in energy efficiency, water management, and recycling projects (about 77% of the total city waste is recycled and more than 490 buildings around the city enjoy LEED certification).183

Moreover, more than 20% of the total city land is reserved for green projects – by any standard, this initiative is a deep commitment to embrace sustainable practices. Alongside these core values of sustainability, the city’s mayor recently said, San Francisco continues to embrace sustainable practices because its economy is tourism-centered and many visitors to the city awe at the city’s core values of sustainability.184

London, United Kingdom

London has also demonstrated that it can position itself to be a sustainable city of the future. However, London’s history of sustainability is not admirable because many environmentalists have criticized the city’s poor record of environmental sustainability.185

Nonetheless, recently, there was renewed focus to resuscitate London’s leadership in promoting environmental sustainability in Europe. One way London is promoting environmental sustainability is encouraging the use of mass transport and cycling as alternative modes of transport to cars. However, like other developed cities around the world, London citizens love cars and therefore, there has been minimal progress realized in this regard. However, this is not to mean that London has not made tremendous progress in promoting its sustainable goals.

A recent report from the London Department of Transport shows that there has been a 70,000 reduction of cars from the streets of London.186 Similarly, there has been an increase of about 6% bus journeys and a 15% increased use of bicycles in the city. The cost savings realized from these reductions in (car use) diverted to the investments in mass transport. For example, the 6% increase in bus journeys complemented the increased investments made in mass transport throughout the city. These gains occurred through the adoption of a “carrot and stick” approach in managing London’s traffic system. For example, the levy imposed on cars plying city routes increased from five Euros to eight Euros.187 The money collected diverted to improving city transport.

Another strategy adopted in London to promote sustainability is the keen emphasis on measuring the city’s ecological footprint. An assertion by Lord Kelvin, which stated, ‘You cannot manage what you cannot measure’188 promoted this initiative. London city planners have taken this statement to a new level and have introduced new standards for measuring the city’s progress in water use, energy consumption and carbon dioxide emission.

Recent statistics showed that London’s ecological footprint was the size of Spain’s and about 30% of the total water consumed was lost in leakages.189 From these statistics, city planners have a more accurate assessment of London’s progress in sustainability. This way, the planners are in a better position to devise new policies or frameworks for improving the city’s position in environmental consciousness.

Among the sustainable projects ongoing in the UK is the Bedzed project. At Bedzed, the construction of 99 homes will occur in a sustainable way.190 Solar power and biogas comprise the main energy sources in the project. Rainwater recycling will also be a key pillar in the project’s sustainability plan. In addition, the Bedzed project aims to introduce electric cars as the main form of transport in this community. By the standards set in Abu Dhabi to introduce sustainable communities (like Masdar), the Bedzed project is relatively smaller. However, the project openly demonstrates the milestones London is making in securing a sustainable future.

Chicago, US

Like San Francisco, Chicago is also leading the way in sustainable development in the US. However, unlike San Francisco and other sustainable cities around the world, Chicago has more LEED certified buildings.191 Its commitment to embrace sustainable practices has also been unwavering and consequently, the city now boasts of having the largest total green building rooftop than any other sustainable city in the US. In fact, from the total environmental leadership awards that the US accrued, Chicago accounts for about 124 of these certifications.192

Moreover, the city also accounts for about 32 environmental leadership awards at the municipal level. However, like other sustainable cities around the world, its leadership eases Chicago’s leadership in “green” building, energy efficiency, water conservation and the adoption of eco-friendly transport services. For example, since 2004, the design of all new municipal buildings easily meets LEED certification (the same philosophy applies to the renovations of new buildings).193 The private sector also follows the same guidelines and failure to do so amounts to penalties and fines, which later contribute to the resources directed at green programs around the city.

Tokyo, Japan

Across the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo is the most sustainable city.194 Clapper reported this ranking after considering the volume of CO2 emissions, water conservation, energy use, transportation models, recycling, wastewater management, and environmental governance standards in Tokyo. Since Japan is located on an island, the need for environmental sustainability has always been at the back of the minds of Tokyo’s city planners.195

They have used Japan’s leadership in technological development to ensure sustainability occurs in almost all facets of life in Tokyo. For example, Tokyo used its technological leadership to develop new transport models such as electric trains that have little to no carbon emissions. Tokyo’s ranking in the use of recycled materials has also been commendable. Currently, the main aim of Tokyo’s city planners is to make the metropolis a zero-waste emitting zone.

To complement this vision, most production and manufacturing activities are leaner and more efficient.196 Furthermore, the city has also invested many resources in building recycling plants to minimize its energy consumption. This vision complements the government’s commitment to reduce the total greenhouse gases in Tokyo. From these efforts, in 2004 Tokyo produced 20% of global firms that were ISO 14001 certified – a certification for the commitment by industrial firms to reduce their greenhouse gases and wastes.197

Most of Tokyo’s success in environmental sustainability links to the government’s role in safeguarding this vision. In fact, over the past years, Tokyo has had a very close relationship with the central government. The central government has simplified the realization of the dream of a sustainable future by creating the right policy network for the realization of this vision. In fact, Tokyo’s zero-emission dream is a political project, which does not differ much from Abu Dhabi’s vision 2030. Now, the current dilemma facing most city planners in Tokyo is how to rank the city’s development objectives with environmental concerns.

Oslo, Norway

Oslo’s status as a sustainable city informs the fact that more than two-third of its total city land is enshrined in protected lands (forests cover these lands).198 Oslo’s sustainability also informs the introduction of new projects such as the lighting project, which automatically adjusts street lighting according to the traffic, and weather of the city. This initiative contributes to the city’s commitment to energy efficiency. Furthermore, the city uses green energy such as bio-methane (developed from waste) to provide the energy for transportation and heating. Most of the city’s employees have also been involved in the realization of an eco-certification.

Like Vancouver, Oslo, intends to cut its carbon emission in the future. Its target sets in 2030 when half of its carbon emission will reduce. This vision complements the national vision to make Norway carbon neutral by 2050 (the transport sector has especially been targeted to help the city achieve this vision).199 Indeed, Oslo has introduced a car and bike-sharing program where the introduction of a new transportation model accommodates more bikes in the city (especially in short distance) instead of cars.

More than 400 charging stations for electric cars have been set up in downtown Oslo (their numbers will increase by the decade).200 To encourage the use of electric cars, there is an exemption of parking fees for electric vehicles. Similarly, electric vehicles have free access to public lanes used for emergency services (about 1,400 people own electric vehicles in Oslo).201

Renewable energy powers Oslo’s heating system. D’Estries claims that about 80% of the energy used in the city’s heating grid comes from renewable energy (mainly biomass).202 Comparatively, the energy saved using renewable energy in this manner is close to the carbon emissions produced by 60,000 cars. In the coming decade, Oslo aims to increase the reliance on renewable energy (for heating purposes) to 100%.203

Curitiba, Brazil

Curitiba has earned the reputation of being the best place to stay in Brazil. The city’s sustainability plan traces its roots in the seventies when urban plans to accommodate the future development of the city accommodated diverse elements of city planning (including sustainability). This plan allowed the sprouting of “green” communities and “green” landing spaces through the identification of issues endangering the realization of this dream. For example, the contribution of the transport sector to city pollution was as one area identified to endanger the city’s plan to be sustainable.204

Through the identification of weak areas in the city’s planning design, city planners made significant changes to ensure Curitiba is an example to not only other Brazilian cities but also other cities in South America to embrace sustainable practices. For example, in the past, there was only one “green space” for every Brazilian in Curitiba but now, there are at least 52 green spaces for every Brazilian in the city.205

In addition, planting more than 1.5 million trees in and around Curitiba has beautified the city’s natural environment. Furthermore, 28 national parks were set up to complement the city’s environmental sustainability goal (the expansion of forests and other vegetations has also complemented this cause). From the transformation of the city’s transport system, more than 2.3 million residents of Curitiba use the city’s inexpensive and efficient fast train service. America and Colombia have emulated this transport model.

According to other sustainability concepts, like recycling, Curitiba also fairs better than its other South American counterparts do. D’Estries explains that more than 95% of the city’s population recycles their waste.206 Furthermore, about two-thirds of the city’s waste is recycled. Curitiba has even come up with an ambitious program where the city’s residents exchange trash for fresh produce from the market. This program has reported huge successes because there has been a significant reduction of city litter, even in some of the “poorer” parts of the city.207

When asked how the city of Curitiba made tremendous strides towards sustainability, the City Mayor declared that the city’s collaboration with its residents provided the best resource to make the city sustainable.208 In this regard, the mayor said,

When a city accepts as a mandate its quality of life; when it respects the people who live in it; when it respects the environment; when it prepares for future generations, the people share the responsibility for that mandate, and this shared cause is the only way to achieve that collective dream.209

This model provides a valuable lesson for other cities that strive to be fully sustainable.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Apart from being Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen has been a model for other cities not only within Denmark but also across the world. One way Copenhagen has been a gem in fostering sustainable practices in Denmark has been in its strides in reducing congestion and carbon emissions in its transport sector. The city has more than 200 miles of biking lanes in the city, which more than a third of the city’s population uses to commute to and from work.210 The following illustration shows how the construction of bicycle lanes has facilitated the adoption of a bicycle culture in the city

Bicycle Culture in Copenhagen
Figure Three: Bicycle Culture in Copenhagen211

The city aims to increase the number of people on bikes to more than 50% of the population by 2015. It also intends to do so by closing some car lanes for bikers and expanding the existing road network to accommodate more biking lanes.

Like other sustainable cities, Copenhagen has invested in renewable energy. Currently, the city hosts the largest wind-power generation industry (wind energy supplements about 19% of Denmark’s energy supply).212 The country expects to expand its wind energy supply by adding 111 more wind turbines offshore. According to its plan to be carbon neutral by 2025, Copenhagen has enacted a new building regulation requiring all new developments to incorporate some form of vegetation on their roofs. Furthermore, the introduction of small pockets of “green” parks has made it easier for all city residents to gain access to “green” parks within 15 minutes from their homes.213


Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 has set Abu Dhabi on its way to global leadership in environmental sustainability. However, based on the findings of this study, clearly, the vision informing the plan was devised at a time of economic prosperity (before the global financial crisis). After the aftermath of the disaster, it was difficult for the investors to fulfill their financial goals.214 Consequently, the postponement of many ambitious infrastructure projects occurred while others became widely fragmented.

The respondents sampled in this paper suggested that it is not harmful to halt the project and reassess the progress so that the best strategy that can be reformulated to propel the project ahead. Throughout the findings of this study, Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 works on a sales funding model where it sells specific components of the projects (like real estate projects, offices or housing) to potential investors.

However, three of the respondents sampled in this report said this model has faced significant problems when the investors fail to meet their financial obligations. They therefore proposed that project planners should seek additional funding models to ensure the project does not stall from the failure of some investors to meet their financial obligations.

Somewhat, the intrigues of the global financial crisis and the challenges they have brought to the funding model for Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 has birthed new opportunities for developers because it opened the opportunity for reflection. Specifically, the project developers will have to scale back their projects and reevaluate their principles informing the completion of the project. Ironically, the project’s pillars (especially financial) were not sustainable while the project’s main aim is to make Abu Dhabi a sustainable city. Therefore, the project developers have to go back to the drawing board and seek more sustainable ways of financing the project.

This move is very crucial for the success of the project because apart from the financial constraints the project is experiencing, market dynamics are also unfavorable. For instance, two respondents sampled in this paper, highlighted fears that Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE may suffer from an oversupply of housing, offices and other real estate investments. If such market situations combine with weak investor confidence in the global market, there are increasing fears that Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 may face more compounded challenges than has been reported already.

A senior planning manager for the UPC also shares these concerns because he emphasizes the need for the project planners for Abu Dhabi to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate the project’s progress and ways that may chart a more sustainable future of the project.215 While the private-public partnership model drives Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, the respondents sampled cited the failures of the private sector to be dangerous to the future of the project. In my view, owing to these inadequacies, it is time the government steps up and fills the gaps left by the private sector. The government should establish a regulatory reform that sees the revamping of the 2030 plan.

These regulatory reforms are supposed to improve the transparency of the project operations and ultimately create the right conditions for an increase in the demand of real-estate developments in Abu Dhabi. Different executives cited by Brass also share this view, because they say, ‘Detailed regulations on foreign ownership, relaxed policies on residency permits and visas, and clear ownership registration are among the issues the Government needs to address to make the 2030 plan more effective.’216Some executives also emphasize the need for more regulation clarity that would better chart the way ahead for the real-estate market. This way, Abu Dhabi’s business community believes foreign investors will have more confidence regarding the future sustainability of the market.

In my view, it is therefore important to include more flexibility in the project because even though Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 is laudable, it needs to evolve and accommodate the changing local and foreign dynamics. Some pundits say that Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 should not be a deadline for the achievement of sustainable plans, but rather, a model or framework for the achievement of the same goal.217 Therefore, in their view (pundits’ view), there is no problem if Abu Dhabi’s vision materializes in 2040 or 2050. Currently, there are emerging voices demanding the review of the plan. Expectations are high that a review of the plan occurs in 2012. However, as Brass observes, the greatest problem facing the achievement of this plan is its implementation.218

Lessons Learned

Throughout the analysis of other sustainable cities around the world, it is easy to point out that there is no single solution for achieving sustainability in all cities. For example, in Copenhagen, there is a strong reliance on bicycles to reduce the city’s carbon emission. In fact, State of Green says Copenhagen intends to increase the number of city residents on bicycles so that it can further reduce the number of cars on the road.219

However, it is important to point out that Copenhagen has tapped into the bicycle culture, which is a Danish tradition. Even though introducing a bicycle culture in Abu Dhabi may not achieve the same results as Copenhagen, it is crucial to point out that taking advantage of some cultural or region-specific situations may offer immense benefits to city planners.

For example, Abu Dhabi is located in an arid region, which receives a lot of sunshine and wind. This region-specific potential offers immense potential in the generation of “green” power. Other cities around the world may not tap into such potential because they do not enjoy the same dynamics as Abu Dhabi does. Abu Dhabi has realized this uniqueness and it has embarked on an ambitious project to tap into its greatest resource – solar energy.

However, the introduction of more initiative needs to occur to further increase the city’s potential of tapping into this resource. In fact, since Masdar city has positioned itself as a technology hub, it should research on new technologies to make solar panels cheaper and potentially tap more energy from the sun. Currently, installing a solar panel is still expensive and out of reach for most Abu Dhabi citizens. The development of newer technology needs to occur to reduce the cost and complexities associated with tapping into solar energy (the focus here should be to transition the installation of solar technology from corporate and governments to residential homes).

Nonetheless, some technological advancement need not be region-specific. For example, there is little emphasis on the use of electric cars as part of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. The evidence gathered in this paper shows a lot of emphasis on the use of mass transport systems instead of electric cars. Several sustainable cities like Copenhagen and Vancouver have heavily invested in modernizing their transport network to promote the use of electric cars.

For example, Copenhagen has plans to increase the number of charging stations in the city to offer more convenience for commuters with electric cars.220 Vancouver also has similar plans. However, there is little evidence to demonstrate this form of commitment in Abu Dhabi. In fact, apart from Masdar city, there is minimal mention of the use of electric cars (some of the plans to introduce electric cars stalled in Masdar). To boost the city’s capacity of accommodating more sustainable transport models, the Abu Dhabi government should encourage its citizens to buy more cars that are electric.

However, they need to build charging stations around the city where such commuters can service their cars. The use of electric cars in other sustainable cities around the world shows that Abu Dhabi still has more unexplored opportunities. Through Masdar, the government may invest more resources into developing electric cars and selling them to the rest of the world, (this strategy complements Masdar’s goals of becoming a technology melt point). In addition, the government may subsidize taxation and duties on electric cars imported into Abu Dhabi. This strategy will make electric cars cheaper and encourage more people to buy them. Through its wide adoption, Abu Dhabi will be able to cut (further) its carbon emissions by 2030.

Community Participation

So far, from the main pillars supporting Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, there is a lot of government and private sector involvement, while there is minimal involvement from the citizens of Abu Dhabi. One lesson highlighted by State of Green in a report to show how Copenhagen achieved its sustainability status is the partnership that the government forged with its citizens.221 Referring to this partnership State of Green says, ‘Copenhagen developed its sustainable solutions to suit the demands of the city’s residents and businesses. They, in turn, have supported the political decisions and strategies created to address those issues.’222

From the above assertion, it is easy to point out the commitment of the Danish government to achieve community buy-in. Such partnerships rarely occur in Abu Dhabi. There is a lot of government control of most development projects with minimal citizen contribution. It is therefore crucial to change this situation and embrace a community approach to sustainability in Abu Dhabi.

The government should therefore refocus their energies from appeasing foreign investors and business executives to ensuring their sustainable solutions meet the desires, needs, and wants of the Abu Dhabi people. According to Richardson, this is the best way sustainable projects introduced by the government can be respected and supported by the people.223

Similar initiatives have occurred in the US. For example, San Francisco city set up a new program called the Business Council on Climate change where more than 100 community organizations (both corporate and social) participate.224 So far, there have been tremendous projects witnessed in water conservation efforts since the community helps build citizen awareness regarding water issues and similar initiatives. The Business Council on Climate Change has therefore reached out to the community and from this effort, increased technology investments have occurred through the support of better policies to promote water conservation.

The San Francisco Business Council has also stretched its oversight from water conservation to greenhouse gas emissions. So far, their efforts direct towards sensitizing businesses and people regarding the importance of reducing carbon emissions in commercial and residential areas.225 Clancy reports significant success in this regard.226 The Business Council of Climate Change has therefore empowered the business community and other organizations with the right tools to achieve the vision of a “greener” city.

Public-Private Partnership

From the challenges experienced in materializing the Abu Dhabi dream, climate change mitigation and adaptation stands out to be a complex issue, which requires critical financial, legal, political, and scientific considerations.227 As the world seeks to embrace sustainable technologies in city planning and technology, it is crucial to highlight Kingsbury’s observation that the goal of embracing sustainable technology requires the collaboration of global institutions.228

Abu Dhabi has been a trailblazer in forging private-public partnerships. This form of collaboration manifests in most analyses of sustainable cities around the world. It is a key pillar in the realization of the vision for a sustainable city because neither the public nor private sectors can work on their own.

The collaboration of New York University and Abu Dhabi Institute is one such collaboration, which is a positive move that complements Abu Dhabi’s vision of becoming truly sustainable. The cross-disciplinary and intercontinental approach to achieve a sustainable vision propagates a viable strategy that improves the prospects of realizing the Abu Dhabi vision. Abu Dhabi continues to position itself as an ideal location for the adoption of this collaborative approach because there is probably no other city that is more sensitive to the effects of global warming (such as the rise of sea levels) than Abu Dhabi – because of its close proximity to the sea. As UAE positions itself as a sustainable hub of development, it needs to tighten its position on the use of renewable energy as its first line of defense.

In San Francisco, the government has taken a collaborative approach because from a government perspective, public-private partnerships enable it to formulate working policies that strive to improve the vision of realizing a sustainable city.229 From the private sector perspective, public-private partnerships offer a platform where companies can engage with other community members and cement their commitment to invest in sustainable development technologies.

For example, civil societies have a better platform to engage with the government and political decision-makers so that they come up with a better roadmap for achieving social, economic, and political progress. This collaboration is therefore crucial for any city that intends to maintain its lead in sustainability. Public-private collaboration is one aspect of sustainable development that Abu Dhabi ranks highly.

Modernizing Sewage System

One way Copenhagen has improved its environmental sustainability goal is by modernizing its sewage system. For example, a few years ago, the idea of taking a bath in Copenhagen’s main harbor was unimaginable. In fact, State of Green reports that more than 100 channels of sewage overflowed into the city’s harbor.230 However, since the city modernized its sewage system, Copenhagen’s harbor has turned “blue”. Now the city’s harbor is jostling with activities (especially during summer and spring) where swimming activities and other recreational events take place.

Unlike Copenhagen, Abu Dhabi faces an unfriendly climate, which requires city planners to be more cautious regarding how they have designed the city’s water management system. Based on this reason, it is crucial for Abu Dhabi to follow Copenhagen’s model and modernize its sewage system to not only reduce pollution but also enhance the city’s water recycling systems. Already, Abu Dhabi recycles most of its waste but because of the limits of old technology, it is difficult to realize the full benefits of water recycling.

Consequently, modernizing the city’s wastewater sewage system will improve the benefits of water recycling. State of Green reports such benefits in Copenhagen.231 For example, the city has witnessed an increase in property values in areas earlier considered “wastelands”. In addition, there have been new job opportunities created from the development of the city harbor (improvement of road networks and similar projects).

Apart from the revitalization of new business and market opportunities, the modernization of Copenhagen’s sewage system and its subsequent cleanup of the city’s harbor has improved marine life by catalyzing the growth of local fauna and flora.232 Abu Dhabi is likely to share this advantage too because the city is located on the UAE’s coastline. Moreover, the city’s marine life forms an integral part of the city’s economic development. Therefore, the modernization of the city’s wastewater treatment facilities will ensure the low emission of waste to the sea and more benefits derived as a result.


From the blueprint laid out in Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, there are many positive highlights complementing Abu Dhabi’s goal to be a sustainable city in 2030. Except for a few improvements, Abu Dhabi city planners seem to have covered almost all aspects of sustainable development that a modern city should. The main tenets of sustainable city development (such as environmental sustainability, economic sustainability and social sustainability) manifest in the plan.

The economic sustainability platform informs the formulation of the entire plan because its design aims to transition Abu Dhabi from being dependent on oil to tourism and real-estate.233 To this extent, most of the plans highlighted in Abu Dhabi’s vision 2030 aims to build sustainable commercial buildings and new projects of commercial interest that develops the city’s commercial interest. In fact, the introduction of Masdar city complements the economic sustainability plan because the city aims to be the new technology hub in the Middle East (set to produce new technology and sell it to the rest of the world).

With partners such as the New York University, Masdar City will spearhead Abu Dhabi’s plan to be a technology hub. This knowledge-based economy complements the city’s vision to be eco-friendly. When this goal merges with the growth of Abu Dhabi’s tourist industry, there is little doubt regarding the positioning of not only Abu Dhabi but also UAE as an excellent tourist destination.

Auxiliary plans in the 2030 plan (like the reduction of pollution and city waste) aim to affirm Abu Dhabi’s position as a tourist hub. This vision complements the economic sustainability vision. Furthermore, the Abu Dhabi government has demonstrated its belief in the city’s vision by relocating the Abu Dhabi stock exchange to a new commercial complex – which is a product of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. The plan therefore seeks to elevate Abu Dhabi’s commercial potential to new heights, and more importantly, in a sustainable way.

Regarding social sustainability, Abu Dhabi has demonstrated that it strives to maintain some of the main social pillars that form its society. Consequently, many projects under the 2030 vision stewardship aim to preserve Abu Dhabi’s culture. This stewardship manifests in the design of new buildings and the construction of new art museums. Besides social and cultural sustainability, these architectural works will also act as tourist attractions, thereby complementing the city’s core vision of being a tourist center. Therefore, even as Abu Dhabi modernizes into a cosmopolitan metropolis, it remains true to its identity and culture.

Finally, there are numerous examples of how Plan Abu Dhabi 2030 will ensure it remains environmentally sustainable. The methodology adopted by Abu Dhabi does not differ much from the methods adopted by other sustainable cities around the world (to maintain environmental sustainability). For example, the reduction of greenhouse gases, minimization of waste, water conservation, energy efficiency and recycling are some prominent pillars for achieving environmental sustainability (adopted by all the sustainable cities analyzed in this paper). Abu Dhabi should not only pursue this path but also take advantage of the few opportunities identified in this paper to improve its quest for environmental sustainability.

Nonetheless, since the inception of the 2030 plan, there have been significant setbacks that have derailed vision 2030. In line with the research question for this paper (to investigate why some plans have changed), financial constraints stand out as the main challenge for the realization of the Abu Dhabi dream. In fact, because of financial constraints, Abu Dhabi has had to change some of its plans to reflect new economic dynamics. Since there is no guarantee that such hiccups will not reappear again in future, it is crucial to seek new and smarter ways of getting money to finance the projects.

Significant progress has however been made throughout the implementation phase of Plan Abu Dhabi 2030. Real estate developments are the most successful projects so far. For example, many respondents sampled highlighted the completion of beach resorts and housing villas. Some of these establishments are already operational. However, socially sustainable projects have taken a back seat. It is important to revive these projects (such as the development of museums) so that they do not fall behind schedule.

As Abu Dhabi, implements the remaining parts of its vision, it is vital to adhere to some of the main regulatory frameworks that have already been set up. More importantly, contractors need to adhere to the Estidama and pearl rating systems because they provide the right regulatory framework and standards for the development of all future projects. In fact, across all the comparisons made between Abu Dhabi and other sustainable cities around the world, Abu Dhabi seems to have an upper hand in the implementation of its sustainability objectives because of the Estidama and the pearl rating systems.

Other cities around the world have a regulatory framework to oversee their sustainable projects but none is as accurate and articulate as the pearl rating system. Estidama and the pearl rating systems therefore outline Abu Dhabi’s main strength in the implementation of its sustainability goals.

By setting its sight on a sustainable city by 2030, Abu Dhabi will enjoy some of the benefits associated with sustainable cities. Already, other sustainable cities around the world reap the benefits of having sustainable cities. Sustainability will not only pose the same benefits for Abu Dhabi but it will also complement its goal of diversifying its economy from being oil centered to knowledge-based.

Moreover, Abu Dhabi will solve some of its pertinent urban growth problems such as congestion, and pollution. By adopting sustainable practices in city development, Abu Dhabi will also benefit from increased land value (which also complements its goal of enhancing its real estate industry). Already, the benefits enjoyed by Copenhagen in this regard show that this goal is achievable. Abu Dhabi will therefore be more attractive to new investors and will increase Abu Dhabi’s ranking as a top destination to not only visit but also live.


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  1. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, Urban Structure Framework Plan, 2012. Web.
  2. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
  3. Ibid.
  4. D Jamali, CSR in the Middle East: Fresh Perspectives, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2012.
  5. Jamali.
  6. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., p. 1.
  9. Jamali.
  10. D Hill, Masdar City: A Closer Look at the City of the Future, 2011. Web.
  11. Jamali.
  12. Hill, p. 2.
  13. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
  14. Ibid., p. 4.
  15. Ibid., p. 5.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Ibid.
  18. R Harrison, ‘Mixed methods designs in marketing research’, Qualitative Market Research: an International Journal, vol. 14, 2011, no. 1, 2011, pp. 7 – 26.
  19. Harrison.
  20. L Chamberlain, ‘The application of physiological observation methods to emotion research’, Qualitative Market Research: an International Journal, vol. 10 no. 2, 2007, pp. 199 – 216.
  21. S Attar, ‘The potential of secondary data sources to explore the life chances of looked-after children in the care system in the UK’, Journal of Children’s Services, vol. 2, no. 2, 2007, pp. 39 – 47.
  22. Attar.
  23. Ibid.
  24. A Wilson, ‘Internet based marketing research: a serious alternative to traditional research methods?’, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, vol. 21, no. 2, 2003, pp. 79 – 84.
  25. S Chapman, Research Methods, Routledge, London, 2005.
  26. S Chapman, Research Methods, Routledge, London, 2005.
  27. Chapman.
  28. C Daymon, Qualitative Research Methods in Public Relations and Marketing Communications, Taylor & Francis, London, 2010.
  29. H Collins, Creative Research: The Theory and Practice of Research for the Creative Industries, AVA Publishing, New York, 2010.
  30. H McDonald, H, ‘A comparison of online and postal data collection methods in marketing research’, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, vol. 21, no. 2, 2003, pp. 85 – 95.
  31. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Ibid.
  34. C Davidson, Abu Dhabi: Oil and Beyond, Hurst Publishers, London, 2011.
  35. Davidson.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
  39. Ibid.
  40. Ibid., p. 23.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Ibid., p. 24.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Ibid.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Ibid.
  47. Ibid., p. 126.
  48. Ibid.
  49. Y Elsheshtawy, The evolving Arab city: tradition, modernity and urban development, Routledge, London.
  50. Elsheshtawy.
  51. Ibid.
  52. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, p. 126.
  53. Elsheshtawy.
  54. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, p. 127.
  55. Ibid.
  56. S Batty, ‘Paradoxes of sustainable development: Property and participation’, Property Management, vol. 24, no. 3, 2006, pp. 207 – 218.
  57. Batty.
  58. F Lorne, ‘A Hong Kong model of sustainable development’, Property Management, vol. 24, no. 3, 2006, pp. 251 – 271.
  59. P Santhi, ‘Unsustainable development to sustainable development: a conceptual model’, Management of Environmental Quality: an International Journal, vol. 17, no. 6, 2006, pp. 654 – 672.
  60. A Ahmed, ‘Leadership, capacity building and sustainable development in contemporary Africa’, World Journal of Entrepreneurship, Management and Sustainable Development, vol. 7, no. 2, 2011, pp. 101 – 111.
  61. Lorne.
  62. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, p. 127.
  63. R Cervelló-Royo, ‘An urban regeneration model in heritage areas in search of sustainable urban development and internal cohesion’, Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 2, No. 1, 2012, pp. 44 – 61.
  64. C Gregoire, ‘Caribbean sustainable livelihoods: the development of a concept’, World Journal of Science, Technology and Sustainable Development, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2012, pp. 136 – 146.
  65. L Swanson, ‘Perspectives on corporate responsibility and sustainable development’, Management of Environmental Quality: an International Journal, vol. 23, no. 6, 2012, pp. 630 – 639.
  66. A Sobol, ‘Governance barriers to local sustainable development in Poland’, Management of Environmental Quality: an International Journal, vol. 19, no. 2, 2008, pp. 194 – 203.
  67. A Englande, ‘Application of biotechnology in waste management for sustainable development: An overview’, Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, vol. 17, no. 4, 2006, pp. 467 – 477.
  68. Sobol.
  69. Ibid.
  70. G Catenazzo, ‘Testing the impact of sustainable development policies in Canton Geneva’, Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, vol. 21, no. 6, 2010, pp. 845 – 861.
  71. Hill.
  72. Ibid.
  73. Ibid.
  74. N Madichie, ‘IRENA – Masdar City (UAE) – exemplars of innovation into emerging markets’, Foresight, vol. 13, no. 6, 2011, pp. 34 – 47.
  75. A Pratelli, Urban Transport XVII: Urban Transport and the Environment in the 21st Century, WIT Press, London, 2011.
  76. A Hill, Masdar City Abandons Transportation System of the Future, 2011. Web.
  77. Madichie.
  78. Ibid.
  79. Ibid.
  80. Ibid.
  81. T Mezher, ‘An overview of CSR in the renewable energy sector: Examples from the Masdar Initiative in Abu Dhabi’, Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, vol. 21, no. 6, 2010, pp. 744 – 760.
  82. U Simonis, ‘Greening urban development: on climate change and climate policy’, International Journal of Social Economics, vol. 38, no. 11, 2011, pp. 919 – 928.
  83. Dubai Pearl, Project Overview, 2012. Web.
  84. Dubai Pearl.
  85. Ibid., p. 2.
  86. Ibid.
  87. Ibid.
  88. Ibid.
  89. Ibid.
  90. Ibid.
  91. Ibid.
  92. Ibid.
  93. Ibid.
  94. Ibid
  95. B Hope, Key investor pulls out of $3.8bn Dubai Pearl, 2011. Web.
  96. Hope, p. 1.
  97. Ibid.
  98. Ibid.
  99. Ibid.
  100. Ibid., p. 5.
  101. Government of Abu Dhabi, Estidama: Abu Dhabi’s Answer to Sustainable Development, 2012. Web.
  102. Government of Abu Dhabi.
  103. Jamali, p. 5.
  104. Abu Dhabi Government.
  105. Abu Dhabi Government, p. 4.
  106. C Brebbia, Sustainable Development and Planning V, WIT Press, London, 2011.
  107. Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council.
  108. L Reeder, Guide to Green Building Rating Systems: Understanding LEED, Green Globes, Energy Star, the National Green Building Standard, and More, John Wiley & Sons, London, 2010.
  109. Abu Dhabi Government.
  110. Ibid.
  111. Abu Dhabi Government.
  112. Abu Dhabi Government, Al Reem Island, 2012. Web.
  113. Abu Dhabi Government.
  114. Ibid.
  115. Ibid.
  116. Ibid.
  117. Ibid.
  118. Ibid., p. 7.
  119. Ibid.
  120. Ibid., p. 8.
  121. Ibid.
  122. Ibid.
  123. Ibid., p. 9.
  124. Ibid.
  125. Ibid., p. 9.
  126. Ibid.
  127. Ibid.
  128. Ibid.
  129. S Sharjah, Saadiyat IslandAbu Dhabi, 2012. Web.
  130. Sharjah.
  131. Ibid.
  132. Ibid.
  133. Ibid.
  134. Ibid.
  135. Ibid.
  136. Ibid.
  137. Ibid.
  138. Heavy Industries Theming Corp, Saadiyat Island A Cultural Mecca, 2012. Web.
  139. Heavy Industries Theming Corp.
  140. Ibid., p. 2.
  141. Ibid.
  142. Ibid.
  143. Gulf Construction, Abu Dhabi review, 2012. Web.
  144. Gulf Construction.
  145. Ibid., p. 4.
  146. Ibid., p. 5.
  147. Ibid., p. 6.
  148. Ibid.
  149. Ibid.
  150. Ibid.
  151. Ibid.
  152. Ibid.
  153. Ibid.
  154. Ibid.
  155. Ibid.
  156. Ibid.
  157. Ibid., p. 8.
  158. Ibid., p. 9.
  159. ITP Digital, Sowwah Square design pedestrian-friendly, 2012. Web.
  160. Gulf Construction, p. 9.
  161. Ibid.
  162. Ibid.
  163. Ibid.
  164. Ibid.
  165. Ibid.
  166. Elsheshtawy.
  167. Ibid.
  168. Gulf Construction.
  169. Ibid.
  170. Ibid.
  171. Ibid.
  172. Ibid.
  173. ADEC, ADEC Approves 205 Emirati Scholarship Programs, 2012. Web.
  174. ADEC, p. 3.
  175. ADEC, p, 4.
  176. M D’Estries, Top Five Most Sustainable Cities in the World, 2011. Web.
  177. D’Estries.
  178. Ibid.
  179. Ibid.
  180. Ibid.
  181. Ibid.
  182. Ibid.
  183. Ibid.
  184. Ibid.
  185. M O’Hare, London’s 4 Steps to the Sustainable City, 2010. Web.
  186. O’Hare.
  187. Ibid.
  188. Ibid., p. 4.
  189. Ibid.
  190. Ibid.
  191. K Richardson, Chicago takes the LEED in eco building, 2012. Web.
  192. Richardson.
  193. Ibid.
  194. L Clapper, Tokyo Named Asia-Pacific’s Greenest City, 2012. Web.
  195. Clapper.
  196. K Fujita, ‘The Zero Waste City: Tokyo’s Quest for a Sustainable Environment’, The Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, Vol. 9, No. 4, 2007, pp. 405-425.
  197. Fujita.
  198. D’Estries.
  199. Ibid.
  200. Ibid.
  201. Ibid.
  202. Ibid.
  203. Ibid.
  204. Ibid.
  205. Ibid.
  206. Ibid.
  207. Ibid.
  208. Ibid.
  209. Ibid., p. 5.
  210. Ibid.
  211. B Katz, Urbanization and inventing a clean economy of place, 2010. Web.
  212. Katz.
  213. Ibid
  214. K Brass, Abu Dhabi Has 2030 in Its Sights, 2010. Web.
  215. Brass.
  216. Ibid., p. 6.
  217. Ibid.
  218. Ibid.
  219. State of Green, Copenhagen: Solutions for Sustainable Cities, 2010. Web.
  220. State of Green.
  221. Ibid.
  222. Ibid., p. 7.
  223. J Richardson, ‘Deciding on exit strategies: using foresight in problem resolution’, Foresight, vol. 11, no. 2, 2009, pp. 50 – 62.
  224. H Clancy, Making a sustainable city: a guide to urban planning, management and rehabilitation, 2012. Web.
  225. Clancy.
  226. Ibid.
  227. B Kingsbury, Climate Finance: Regulatory and Funding Strategies for Climate Change and Global Development, NYU Press, New York, 2009.
  228. Kingsbury.
  229. Clancy.
  230. State of Green.
  231. Ibid.
  232. Ibid.
  233. Wildcat Publishing, The Oil & Gas Year Abu Dhabi, Wildcat Publishing, Abu Dhabi, 2010.

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