Personal Rapid Transport in Masdar

By Anonymous

The concept of personal rapid transport (PRT) is compelling due to the logistical efficiencies, fuel savings, emission reductions and safety improvements such systems can realize. However, their metropolis level implementation remains closer to a science fiction movie than to reality, even in planned cities like Masdar.

PRTs exist in many forms, but their basic principle is to provide shared, autonomous, point to point travel for people in urban areas, allowing travelers to rest or work instead of operating a vehicle. By reducing vehicle size and the number of stops, PRTs use less energy when starting and stopping than traditional trains or buses, which are typically underutilized except during peak periods. Some PRTs use guided tracks, like the one at Heathrow Airport, while others like the one in Masdar rely on subterrain magnets to guide above ground pods that carry 4-20 people.


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Environmental Sustainability: How to Orient the Discussion

By Lily Deng

Our course is on sustainable cities, but one under-discussed area of sustainability in our course is environmental sustainability. I was surprised that our case on Masdar vs. Tianjin became largely about the cool vs. less cool, the high-tech vs. low-tech, the greenfield vs. brownfield, the new vs. retro-fitted space. While all those items warrant discussion, I thought that the environmental impact of cities ought to be a higher priority in our course consciousness. For example, a major section of the case was on Reinventing the City to Combat Climate Change, but it is unclear from the case how Masdar and Tianjin are specifically combating climate change.  Here is how we might unpack these issues.

As the case notes:

  • “Cities are responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions”
  • “China alone is estimated to generated…16 percent of all new urban area in developing countries”
  • The Masdar Initiative was designed to pursue “solutions to some of mankind’s most pressing issues: energy security, climate change and truly sustainable human development”
  • “Nearly 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions…already emanate from cities, and that number is expected to grow as the world’s population moves towards the 9 billion mark…”

Thus, instead of thinking merely about piecemeal issues that involve high project-on-project risk, I think we should be proactively discussing the broader global environmental factors. The topics we’ve covered in class are extremely important business and design considerations, but do not get at the heart of environmental stability. These topics include, but are not limited to: public-private partnerships, PRT vs. BRT vs. MRT, lease vs. own, partner vs. develop internally vs. sub-contract, and so on and so forth.

Here’s how I propose we might orient our discussion forward instead. Continue reading

The Next Generation of Cities

By Regan Turner

In studying brand new cities such as King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and Masdar, we saw examples of ambitious sovereign governments taking on bold development projects that encapsulated their vision for how their country’s population would live, work, and play in the future. In undertaking these projects, however, these governments also assume enormous financial and social risk that the cities may never reach their potential. In the future, therefore, I would argue that master-planned growth should happen in locations where people already choose to live, rather than in places that are sparsely inhabited, or not inhabited at all.

Across the globe, populations are urbanizing and densifying. For the first time in the world’s history, more people now live in urban centers than in rural locations, and as Figure 1 shows, that gap is growing.

Figure 1: Urban and Rural Population of the World (Source: United Nations,

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Smart, Non-Grandiose Entrepreneurship

By Yonatan

In our survey of case studies in the course we encountered several types of entrepreneurial approaches that range from Living PlanIT’s system-level IT solution and Masdar’s top-down support of cutting edge technology to Sarvajal’s business model innovation for clean water delivery to individual rural Indians. These and other examples demonstrate approaches that vary across many dimensions, two of which, I would like to argue, are most important: the degree of technology innovation and the scope of the solution (i.e. room, apartment, building, neighborhood, city; not scope as in size of addressable market). [Maybe “ambition” or “scale” would work on this axis too? – John M]

There are numerous reasons for why these dimensions are particularly important. The degree of technology innovation has vast implications on upfront R&D expenditures, time-to-market, level of customer education and required guarantees on one end and competitive barriers-to-entry, asset intensity and costs of operation on the other. The scope of the solution influences scalability, level of coordination and concentration/fragmentation of the customer base, among other things. Overall, these are chief in determining the go-to-market strategy, profit formula, availability of funding and other elements of the opportunity that impact the probability of success for a new venture[1].

With this in mind, I believe that the middle-ground of these two dimensions are the “sweet spot” for entrepreneurship in the fields we have been discussing, especially for applications in existing cities. The following diagram illustrates my rough evaluation of some of the examples we discussed in class and others [2]:

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How can we best talk about people in a finance course?

By John Macomber

A student wrote to me offline with the observation I’ve paraphrased below. My email reply follows below that. I’d be interested in thoughts on how to expand an infrastructure finance course from “develop property” into “develop human beings” while continuing to exercise a finance, investment, entrepreneurship, and big business toolkit.

This passionate pain point (sorry about the PPP again ) is a good angle for final essays on the blog (should you be looking for a topic later today).

To me this conversation also underscores the potential learning value of this experimental blog in drawing out points of view or lines of reasoning that didn’t get expressed in class (for any number of reasons). Other recent posts expanding on what was not said in class include but are not limited to:

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Inclusive, Practical, Replicable, and Scalable

By Tina Adams

I came across a quote from the company in charge of building Tianjin Eco-City that summarizes why I feel the Eco-City is more significant and interesting than Masdar City in Abu Dhabi or PlanIT Valley in Portugal

“We want to avoid the idea that [Tianjin Eco-City] is a haven for rich people or second-homers from Beijing…Being green isn’t a luxury, it’s an affordable necessity. This city should be a practical, replicable, scalable model for elsewhere in China and the world.”

I wholeheartedly agree that the overarching mission of a sustainable city should be to be socially inclusive, practical, replicable, and scalable. Without these characteristics I find it hard to classify a city as truly sustainable. I want to dive deeper into what we can learn from Tianjin Eco-city’s plan to meet these four criteria. Continue reading

Planned Urban Developments versus Natural Gathering Points

By John Niehaus

One thing that struck me after seeing the slides on Kumbh Mela was this remarkable difference between forced urban developments, like King Abdullah Economic City and Masdar, and natural points of gathering, like Kumbh Mela every 12 years. Throughout history, most cities in the world have been created by being natural points of gathering, either for religious, cultural, or economic purposes. However, the rise of powerful and wealthy central governments with a growing middle class, for example in China, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, has led to an increasing trend of governments choosing(or attempting) to locate and build cities as they see fit. Continue reading