KAUST and more sustainable cities in the Middle East

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You have probably heard about Masdar City, a city close to Abu Dhabi and founded in 2006, with its ambition to be the first zero carbon city in the world. The first and one of the biggest tenants of Masdar City is Masdar Institute, a research-oriented university dedicated to advancing renewable energy and sustainable technologies.

However, I suppose not many of you have heard about King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a private research university in Saudi Arabia. Not only a university, KAUST is a complete town with a town centre, residential areas (for both its students and employees), recreational areas and many facilities to support community activities. The total area is 3,600 hectares, which is six times larger than Masdar City.

Just like Masdar Institute, KAUST is characterized by its multicultural and international environment with the aim of rekindling science in the Islamic world. If Masdar City is developed to be a sustainable city in which mobility aspect has also well planned from the very beginning (personal rapid transit, light rail transit and a connection to the Abu Dhabi metro system), this is not the case with KAUST.

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Sustainability concept in KAUST is first implemented in the architecture of the campus. The buildings have been specifically constructed to utilize natural light and ventilation. The university earned a Platinum rating on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scale, which is a standard for green building design. This makes KAUST the world’s largest LEED Platinum campus.

To realize its commitment in sustainable development any further, KAUST plans to develop a sustainable transport system. Currently KAUST already has an alternative transport system that consists of an internal bus system with dedicated stops throughout the campus, an external bus routes (to Jeddah and other destinations) and the design of a bicycle friendly environment with bicycle racks. With the alternative transportation plan, the number of individual car trips has been limited causing a positive effect on overall carbon footprint of KAUST. However, they want to do more to steer the future development of KAUST towards a sustainable city. Currently there are around 6,000 residents and this number is expected to grow as KAUST plans to expand into a real city in order to cover more activities.

Learning from the best practices of sustainable mobility in European countries, several aspects that KAUST could adapt in developing a comprehensive sustainable mobility plan to guide its future mobility development are:

  • Transit Oriented Development (mixed use of residential and commercial area to maximize access to public transport);
  • bus network optimisation to increase ridership;
  • deployment of electric buses to reduce emissions significantly;
  • non-motorised transport infrastructure and facilities.

Hopefully, we will hear about innovative sustainability projects from KAUST in the near future.

We see that more and more sustainability initiatives are coming from the Middle East region. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Masdar City, KAUST…and the list goes on. Until a decade ago, such initiatives were mostly dominated by European countries to address, among others, a challenge of “the end of fossil fuel”. So, it is very interesting to see the initiatives coming from the world’s dominant oil producers. It seems that they have another motivation and vision: preserving the environment and to become world class sustainable cities!

Do you know other cities in the Middle East that have been initiating sustainable mobility measures? Please share with us in the comment box here below. Thank you.

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