Throughout the world, cities are currently facing, to different extents, a variety of global challenges, such as uncontrolled growth, urban degradation, globalization, spatial segregation, energy consumption, social exclusion, environmental impact and several other factors which could potentially lead to the decline of the urban culture in the future of mega-cities. By 2050, more than 75% of population will live in cities, meaning that all these threats will become more and more concentrated inside urban areas. Among these challenges, sustainability and energy consumption represent by far urgent aspects that all urban planning and design disciplines are called to carefully consider through a multi-dimensional and fully-integrated approach.
Moreover, the world’s greatest cities are trying to promote more low carbon and climate resilient developments, fully aware of the concrete risks associated to climate change and taking more action on climate adaptation and mitigation.
The main objective of the Masdar City, conceived by Foster + Partners almost ten years ago, was to provide residents and city users with the highest quality of life and the lowest environmental footprint. A carbon neutral city, 17km far from Abu Dhabi downtown, of around 45,000 residents and 60,000 workplaces in around 6km2 of plot area entirely reliant on renewable energy.
In order to adequately respond to the overall aspiration of the project and support the mobility of the city fulfilling the “carbon neutrality” design principle, Systematica developed an integrated and multi-layered transport and mobility strategy3, including a dense and driverless Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) network, with completely separated right-of-way to provide direct accessibility (less than 200m on an average) and ensure comfortable, efficient and seamless door-to-door trips throughout Masdar Citadel, completely free of privately-owned vehicles. PRT system was designed to cope with around 46,000 trips in the AM peak period (7.00-9.00) of a typical weekday, ensuring full accessibility to 50% of urban functions in less than 100m, thanks to the delivery of 83 stations and an average waiting time between 2 minutes (50% of trips) and 3 minutes (90% of trips).
Although the full implementation plan of the original concept of Masdar City is not yet accomplished and the overall sustainable strategy radically revised, Masdar City can be acknowledged as the first worldwide attempt to deliver a complete zero emission urban development model, which have surely paved the way toward low carbon and, to some extent, climate resilient developments.
Today, after 10 years, our cities are becoming more and more intelligent, fully connected and “driverless”. Thanks to the availability of sensors and devices, it is in fact possible to understand and monitor in real time what happens, by treating and analysing big data for developing new services and planning more efficient and sustainable infrastructures.
With this respect and among many smart solutions, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV) represent today the most interesting challenge for a radical change on urban mobility patterns in the future. From a city and transport planning perspective, the real interest is not only related to the vehicle itself and the technology that comes with, but it encompasses a larger, urban-scale vision to envisage how future cities can be shaped and which opportunities CAVs could open up setting out the future of sustainability. To this end, a potential strong reduction of the provision of infrastructural capacity (parking and road and junction capacity) thanks to new and more efficient mobility patterns, would have a radical impact on urban morphology, with the possibility to significantly enhance urban public realms and, in turn, quality of life.