Alumni part of world's first sustainable city

Christy YoungsmaTen percent of the world’s oil reserves lie beneath the desert sand of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Above that sand, 11 miles from the old city, a new city is rising, one where none of the energy will be generated by oil or any other fossil fuel. It will be the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste urban development. And a Calvin grad is helping it happen.

Christy Youngsma ’83 is a program delivery systems manager for CH2M HILL, the Denver-based engineering and construction firm that is overseeing the building of Masdar City. She arrived at the site in April with a communications-kind of assignment: Make sure all the many different contractors, consultants and staff brought together from all over the world to design and build the city understand the strategies and protocols CH2M HILL has established to meet Masdar’s unprecedented goals. To accomplish that, she’s developed a Web-based tool that breaks down and illustrates for all the players how the project’s large, complex functions have to flow. She also runs “on-boarding” sessions for them, where protocols for critical project elements like safety, sustainability, cost and site logistics are explained.

“I love the challenge of exploring and communicating all aspects of a project where sustainability has a leading role,” Youngsma said. “And developing business and personal relationships in a richly different culture makes nearly every hour of the day special in some way.”

Masdar CityThe 5.5-square-kilometer city Youngsma is giving her energy and skills to help build is part of the Masdar Initiative, Abu Dhabi’s multi-faceted investment in exploring, developing and commercializing energy sources other than oil. The first structures are well under way: the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, devoted to renewable energy study and research, and the Masdar Initiative’s headquarters, a building slated to produce more energy than it consumes.

These and the residential, commercial, civic and religious buildings to follow in a city designed for approximately 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters will all be powered by renewable energy sources,  including solar cells, concentrated solar power, geothermal energy and energy derived from waste. Masdar will also be the first land-based city to operate without fossil-fueled cars and trucks. A rapid transportation system—powered by solar electricity—will run underground, but not on fixed tracks. Personal rapid transit vehicles or pods will serve as a kind of 24-7 automated taxi service. Passengers will be able to program a vehicle to go anywhere in the city.

Besides zero emissions, Masdar City hopes to eliminate the whole concept of waste. Water—desalinated at a solar-powered plant—will be recycled and reused. Human and other biological waste will be “re-purposed” in several ways, including bio-fuel. Commercial and industrial wastes, like metals and plastics, are to be recycled, too.

Though she’s likely to finish her project phase before the completion of the world’s first fully sustainable modern city, Youngsma said, “The future impact of what we’re doing in terms of sustainability is very exciting. It has been a work-changing experience that I’ll take with me to the next project. Also, living in an Arab Muslim country has, for me, replaced ignorance with knowledge on many important levels.”