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Urban eco-modernisation and the policy context of new eco-city projects: Where Masdar City fails and why


  • Federico Cugurullo


The development of projects for new eco-cities is rapidly becoming a global phenomenon. Alleged eco-cities are being built across a variety of spaces via processes of urbanisation triggering substantial environmental, social and economic impacts. This article investigates how new eco-city projects interpret and practice urban sustainability by focusing on the policy context that underpins their development. The article argues that projects for new eco-cities are shaped in loci by policy agendas tailored around specific economic and political targets. In these terms, the ideas and strategies of urban sustainability adopted by eco-city developers are understood as reflections of broader policy priorities. The case study employed in this article, Masdar City, reveals how the Emirati eco-city initiative is the product of local agendas seeking economic growth via urbanisation to preserve the political institutions of Abu Dhabi. Following the economic imperatives set by the ruling class, the Masdar City project interprets sustainability as ecological modernisation and practices urban environmentalism almost exclusively in economic terms. The article shows how the developers of Masdar City capitalise on sustainability by building an urban platform to develop and commercialise clean-tech products, and concludes that the Emirati alleged eco-city is an example of urban eco-modernisation: a high-tech urban development informed by market analysis rather than ecological studies.

Suggested Citation

  • Federico Cugurullo, 2016. "Urban eco-modernisation and the policy context of new eco-city projects: Where Masdar City fails and why," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 53(11), pages 2417-2433, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:urbstu:v:53:y:2016:i:11:p:2417-2433

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    Cited by:

    1. Heaphy, Liam James, 2018. "Interfaces and divisions in the Dublin Docklands 'Smart District'," SocArXiv z2afc, Center for Open Science.
    2. Soud K. Al-Thani & Cynthia P. Skelhorn & Alexandre Amato & Muammer Koc & Sami G. Al-Ghamdi, 2018. "Smart Technology Impact on Neighborhood Form for a Sustainable Doha," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(12), pages 1-17, December.
    3. Justyna Przywojska & Aldona Podgórniak-Krzykacz & Justyna Wiktorowicz, 2019. "Perceptions of Priority Policy Areas and Interventions for Urban Sustainability in Polish Municipalities: Can Polish Cities Become Smart, Inclusive and Green?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(14), pages 1-24, July.
    4. Fuyuan Wang & Kaiyong Wang, 2017. "Assessing the Effect of Eco-City Practices on Urban Sustainability Using an Extended Ecological Footprint Model: A Case Study in Xi’an, China," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(9), pages 1-16, September.
    5. Anastasiadou, K. & Vougias, S., 2019. "“Smart” or “sustainably smart” urban road networks? The most important commercial street in Thessaloniki as a case study," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 18-25.
    6. Heaphy, Liam James, 2018. "Interfaces and divisions in the Dublin Docklands 'Smart District'," OSF Preprints xbrgt, Center for Open Science.
    7. Martin De Jong & Thomas Hoppe & Negar Noori, 2019. "City Branding, Sustainable Urban Development and the Rentier State. How Do Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai Present Themselves in the Age of Post Oil and Global Warming?," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 12(9), pages 1-26, April.
    8. Julie Marin & Bruno De Meulder, 2018. "Interpreting Circularity. Circular City Representations Concealing Transition Drivers," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(5), pages 1-24, April.
    9. Mora, Luca & Deakin, Mark & Reid, Alasdair, 2019. "Strategic principles for smart city development: A multiple case study analysis of European best practices," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 70-97.
    10. Valeria Saiu, 2017. "The Three Pitfalls of Sustainable City: A Conceptual Framework for Evaluating the Theory-Practice Gap," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(12), pages 1-23, December.


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