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These visionary projects pioneer eco-friendly innovations without compromising luxury, aiming to create ethical urban paradigms for tomorrow

Major cities worldwide, once envisioned as the locus of advancement, are no longer immune to nature’s wrath. From increased water levels to temperature rise to overpopulation, climate change has the world in a chokehold.

A report published by the World Bank, titled “Thriving: Making Cities Green, Resilient and Inclusive in Changing Climate,” indicates that the frequency of extreme heat increased across cities globally from the 1970s to 2020, whereas the sea-level rise of about 0.125 millimetres per year has also increased the risk of flooding for coastal cities. These effects have been quadrupled with the impacts of overtourism, which include resource depletion and increased pollution. Several destinations that have always been on a traveller’s radar are facing the brunt of this. Be it the romantic city of Venice or the buzzing capital of Jakarta and the serene Maldives, they are all staring at a grim future.

However unfortunate, this reality has propelled many major countries to build for a better future, with many innovation-led sustainable cities being planned around the world. While some are on their way to completion, and some with their eyes set on the next decade, these cities of the future are all for redefining urban living. And for travellers, they promise experiences like you have never had before.

  • Amaala, Saudi Arabia

    As one of the flagship projects conceived as a part of Saudi Arabia Vision 2030, Amaala is set to become a sought-after destination for global travellers. While all eyes have been on Amaala for its luxurious experiences, from wellness to marine adventures along the Red Sea coastline, the destination is focused on staying sustainable.

    To begin with, Amaala has set the limit of the number of visitors per year to only 5,00,000 to minimise the impact on the environment. And although the wellness destination, powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, is spread over 4,000 sq. km, only 5 per cent of the greenfield site is reserved for development.

    Taking Cues From The Past

    While Amaala may seem futuristic, it keeps its roots intact. Passive cooling processes of the ancient Arabic wind towers and interconnected open spaces frequently feature across the many significant structures in Amaala. This has been done with the idea that buildings adapt to nature and not the other way around. The most prominent example is the Red Sea Marine Life Institute. The 10,000 sq m institute stands out for its unique facade modelled after a coral reef. Its orientation has been planned to ensure natural shade and airflow within.

    All the buildings are strategically located away from the coastline to avoid interfering with the Red Sea's turtle population. Lighting is designed to reduce night sky pollution and disruption to nocturnal marine life.

    Experiences in Amaala

    The destination primarily consists of three parts: the Island, the Coastal Development and Triple Bay. While the Island has been envisioned as an enclave housing upscale hotels, the Coastal Development will be offering opportunities to immerse in art experiences.

    In addition, the Triple Bay, set to welcome the first batch of visitors in 2024, will be home to exclusive wellness resorts such as Six Senses and Equinox, sporting facilities, a luxurious yacht club and many diving sites.

    Amaala will be completed in 2027.

  • Chengdu, China

    While Chengdu is one of southwest China's earliest settlements, the city has blazed past several others when it comes to modernity by embracing the digital revolution. Its transformation into a smart city can be attributed to the power of cutting-edge technologies like the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence to enhance urban life and improve the well-being of its citizens.

    Pioneering Urban Innovations

    One notable example of Chengdu's innovative city initiatives is the deployment of intelligent street lamps. These lamps light the streets and serve as multifunctional hubs offering Wi-Fi connectivity, displaying LED messages, charging stations, and generating solar energy. Chengdu is also pioneering autopilot taxis, offering citizens a glimpse into the future of transportation. These autonomous vehicles operate in a demonstration project at the Singapore-Sichuan Hi-Tech Innovation Park.

    Smart City Perception and Cashless Transactions

    Chengdu is investing in powerful computing resources to bolster its smart city infrastructure further. In July 2022, Chengdu established a smart city perception centre, laying the foundation for a comprehensive smart city perception system. This system will integrate perception terminals, communication networks, and management platforms to gather real-time data about the city's environment, traffic, and public safety, enabling easy navigation throughout the city.

    Not only this, the city is prioritising nature at the heart of its growth and is investing in ecological infrastructure projects to address challenges like pollution and environmental degradation. One of these projects is a vast Green Belt, which is intended to maximise the benefits of nature for the city and its residents. Chengdu is also working with experts to enhance its green initiatives and share best practices with other cities globally.

    What To Experience

    Though the city can easily transport you to the exciting sci-fi world of the movies, with a history dating 2,400 years ago, there's a lot to discover. Leaving this modern hub without visiting the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Pandas is a mistake, especially if you are travelling with kids. Here, cutting-edge technology and scientific know-how have been implemented to create a natural habitat for the once-dwindling population of pandas.

    Lastly, for a taste of the local culture, catch a Sichuan opera performance in Kuan Zhai Alley, where you can also tour the ancient buildings from the Qing dynasty and try authentic Sichuan food, which has earned it the recognition of UNESCO City of Gastronomy.

  • NEOM, Saudi Arabia

    NEOM, a portmanteau of the Greek prefix "Neo", signifying "new," and the letter M for the Arabic word "mustaqbul," meaning "future," lives up to its name. Touted to be the world's most ambitious project, NEOM spans 26,500 sq. km and is 33 times the size of New York City. Despite its scale, sustainability is the top priority among all the different regions that will be developed under it, namely Sindalah, Trojena, a one-of-a-kind vertical city, The Line, the port city of Oxagon, and most recently, Leyja and Epicon.

    Powered by Tech

    Not only will NEOM feature the world's largest green hydrogen production plant, but it is also building itself up to be the world's most food-self-sufficient city by implementing vertical farming and greenhouses. In addition, masterplans also include the construction of a self-contained and low-cost grid of renewable energy that will be seamlessly blended into the architecture. With the use of AI, residents will be able to return excess energy generated to the grid. While these innovative sustainable solutions will be implemented throughout NEOM, each boasts a distinct character that comes through the best in design. The Line, envisioned as a 170 km linear city, consists of two 500-metre-high glass skyscrapers running parallelly from east to west. Also embracing vertical urbanism, Epicon features two towers at 225 metres and 275 metres, housing premium hotels, apartments, and a resort with 120 rooms and 45 beach villas.

    Tourism-centric Sustainable Planning

    While The Line and Epicon cater to residents and tourists, Sindalah, Trojena, and Leyja have been planned as through-and-through tourist destinations. While the island resort of Sindalah, set to open in 2024, will be home to a golf course, beach and yacht clubs, Trojena will be a year-round mountain resort with 36 km of planned ski slopes. Meanwhile, Leyja will be built as a sustainable tourist destination with three hotels and a wide range of wellness and active experiences.

    Challenges and Criticisms

    With all eyes set on this part of Saudi Arabia to see if the city as imagined comes to fruition by 2030, NEOM has also been subjected to criticism by human rights campaigners for its claims on sustainability as construction has led to the eviction of the native Huwaitat tribe.

  • AlUla, Saudi Arabia

    AlUla may not fit the definition of "futuristic" in how it looks, but in terms of its vision, it certainly is. Set in the vast desert of Medina Province and with a history dating to the Palaeolithic Ages, AlUla has positioned itself as the world's largest living museum.

    Preserving Heritage

    To retain the region's essence, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has employed a sustainability charter that includes economic, environmental and social sustainability as guiding pillars, backed by extensive scientific research on the environmental and geological evolution of the destination and those inhabiting the region. The development of a conservation assessment tool by the RCU and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been a key initiative. This tool helps evaluate and review protected areas and ongoing conservation work and measures alignment with standards laid out by the IUCN Green List. In addition, the RCU has also partnered with the World Bank to introduce initiatives that empower the local community. This includes developing and investing in small and medium tourism-focused enterprises, thereby creating more employment opportunities.

    Community Empowerment and Ethical Tourism

    While AlUla marches forward by championing ethical tourism, the labyrinth-like historical alleys and towering natural and manmade monuments take you back in time. Worth exploring is the site of over 110 well-preserved tombs carved from rock formations and featuring inscriptions, the 52-metre-high Elephant Rock shaped by wind and water erosion for over a million years, the Old Town Village that was once an essential settlement along the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Makkah, the Maraya Concert Hall, and the volcanic desert ecosystem of Khyabar.

    AlUla also has many top-notch sustainable luxurious resorts and glamping options, such as Habitas AlUla, Banyan Tree, Ashar Tented Resort, and Sahary AlUla Resort, with many more set to open in 2024. For a more offbeat experience, try Caravan Habitas or camping under the stars.

  • Floating City, Maldives

    Lodged within the azure waters of the Maldives is an ambitious solution to the imminent threat of rising sea levels—the Floating City. Situated just 10 minutes away by boat from Malé and envisioned to counter the challenges posed by climate change, it is an architectural marvel that beckons both residents and global travellers.

    Sustainable Living in Paradise

    Designed by Dutch architect Koen Olthuis, the floating city stands as a testament to sustainability and adaptability, with its completion scheduled for 2027. Conceived to accommodate 20,000 residents, this futuristic haven, with swimming homes, hotels, floating streets, playgrounds, schools, and restaurants, promises a unique lifestyle amidst the gentle sway of the ocean.

    The city's ethos revolves around harmony with nature, featuring a network of interconnected floating platforms supporting vibrant communities and modern infrastructure. Embracing a boating community culture, it fosters an environment where the rhythm of life is set by the sound of bicycle bells and the muted hum of electric buggies and scooters. Restricted vehicular movement ensures an idyllic landscape on natural white sand roads, inviting exploration by foot or bike.

    Anchored to the seabed with ingenious telescoping piles, the city elegantly adapts to the ebb and flow of tides, a functional design element that complements its sustainability. The absence of cars amplifies the peace, creating an acoustic symphony of nature's whispers, ensuring minimal noise pollution for residents and visitors alike.

    Exploring Maldives' Futuristic Haven

    As you traverse this modern archipelago, artificial coral banks beneath the city's surface mirror an ethos of environmental conservation. These banks facilitate the growth of coral, contributing to the preservation of marine ecosystems. Moreover, protected submerged coral reefs embrace the city, acting as a natural barrier against the lapping waves, ensuring safety for all who call this innovative floating city their home.

    Envisioned as a residential hub and a beacon for global visitors, the city offers an exclusive opportunity for those seeking a lifestyle in a sustainable paradise. With 100 square metres of residences designed for comfort and luxury (priced from USD 250,000), each seafront dwelling boasts a unique blend of functionality and elegance. Those drawn to this vision are not just purchasing a house but investing in an experience—a harmonious blend of modernity and environmental responsibility.

  • Red Sea Project, Saudi Arabia

    Set on the west coast of Saudi Arabia and spanning over 28,000 sq. km, the Red Sea giga-project has been envisioned as a sustainable oasis amidst the vast Arabian desert. With a vision to poise itself as a leading luxury eco-tourism destination, the Red Sea is all set to be home to groundbreaking sustainable initiatives centred around preserving the pristine nature it is set in.

    While it covers an expansive area, spreading across an archipelago of 90 untouched islands, 75 per cent have been slotted to be preserved for conservation. Meanwhile, groundbreaking initiatives are in progress across the remaining region open to tourists and completely powered by renewable energy to ensure limited emissions and clean mobility.

    Innovation At Peak

    One of the key and truly futuristic masterplans devised has been unlocking a mechanism that makes the destination the first to provide bottled water from air and sunlight by harnessing a patented solar technology. An intelligent resort management process will also be put in place that will allow the tracking of visitor flow to minimise overcrowding.

    Moreover, indoor farms will be built to ensure sustainable food production in the region, where crops grown sustainably will be supplied to resorts and restaurants. This technology promises to reduce the reliance on fresh groundwater, saving up at least 300 litres.

    Below The Surface

    But that's not all. Surrounded by the world's fourth-largest barrier reef system and housing desert dunes, mountain canyons and historical cultural sites, the Red Sea shines with its diverse landscape. While they promise strong potential to attract tourists worldwide, especially marine lovers, it is equally essential to protect such fragile ecosystems. Fortunately, the Red Sea has fierce plans to do so. A subsidiary of Red Sea Global, Galaxae will oversee diving activities across the numerous undisclosed sites.

    Moreover, the destination will also be working along with the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) to ensure that sites aren’t overtaxed, and the integrity of the marine ecosystem is not compromised. Also, to mitigate the challenges of the climate crisis, 50 million mangrove trees will be grown, as they are huge carbon sinks.

    The Situation Now

    Although initial steps have been taken towards this direction, it's all set to come to fruition in 2030. However, the destination has opened its doors to tourists this year, with Six Senses Southern Dunes officially welcoming guests now and the Red Sea International Airport receiving its first flight from Riyadh in September.

    In 2024, the destination will be home to 13 more resorts, including St. Regis Red Sea Resort, Sheybara Resort and Njuma. As far as connectivity is concerned, the airport is gearing up to extend its network internationally, with Dubai being the first overseas destination.

  • BiodiverCity, Malaysia

    As the world hurdles towards an uncertain future, hope emerges from the waters of Malaysia's Penang Strait. BiodiverCity, a brainchild of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), serves as a testament to humanity's ability to harmonise progress and sustainability. This archipelago of three artificial islands, each resembling a lily pad afloat on the sea, redefines the concept of urban living, seamlessly blending innovation with environmental stewardship. With the backing of the Penang state government, BiodiverCity is poised to revolutionise the urban landscape.

    Each Island's Narrative

    Channels, the first island, will resemble Penang state's capital, George Town. It boasts the Civic Heart and the Cultural Coast district, reminiscent of Penang's vibrant heritage. Lodged within its core lies a 200-hectare digital park, inviting all to explore the frontiers of technology.

    Mangroves, the second island and the pulsating heart of BiodiverCity, embodies a corporate persona, surrounded by urban wetlands and verdant Mangrove forests. The heart of it will feature the Bamboo Beacon, serving as a hub for conferences and significant gatherings.

    The last island, known as The Laguna, is a compact archipelago comprising eight smaller islands arranged around a central marina. The site encompasses floating, stilted, and terraced residences for inhabitants and is designed to serve as breeding grounds for underwater creatures, contributing to the creation of fresh marine environments.

    A Harmony of Design and Sustainability

    Envisioned as vibrant urban lilypads, these islands interconnect through an autonomous transport network, promising an immersive experience for the curious explorer.

    The scale of this ambitious project spans 1,821 hectares and its allure lies in the meticulously designed landscapes. Picture mixed-use districts sprawled across each island, adorned with 4.6 kilometres of pristine public beaches, vast expanses of green spanning 242 hectares, and a mesmerising 25-kilometre waterfront.

    Coexisting with Nature

    At its core, BiodiverCity embodies a profound mission: to foster Penang Island's sustainable economic and cultural evolution while safeguarding the precious biodiversity of its coastal realms and natural habitats. Here, structures will be built from bamboo, Malaysian timber, and innovative "green concrete," redefining architectural sustainability.

    Anticipated to accommodate between 15,000 to 18,000 residents per island, BiodiverCity stands as a beacon of self-sufficiency. Its reliance on local water resources, renewable energy, and avant-garde waste management systems portrays a thriving, eco-conscious community. Moreover, the city's connectivity thrives on an autonomous, eco-friendly transport system, creating a haven free of cars, where cyclists and pedestrians reign supreme. Surrounding the urban landscape lies a network of ecological corridors—nature's sanctuaries teeming with life—serving as buffers and parks to bolster biodiversity.

    While the exact launch date of BiodiverCity remains uncertain, the project aligns with Penang2030, a government-driven initiative aimed at bolstering Malaysia's quality of life, economy, and environment via sustainable ventures and progress.

    OCEANIX, Busan, South Korea

    Located along South Korea's vibrant coast a soon-to-be-materialised marvel—OCEANIX Busan, is an innovative response to the challenges posed by rising sea levels. Imagine a place where invention meets sustainability, creating a magnet for travellers seeking an eco-conscious and unforgettable adventure. The objective is to ensure this city is prepared well before 2030, the targeted year for Busan's bid to host World Expo 2030.

    Where Nature and Innovation Converge

    OCEANIX Busan is more than just a city; it's a transformative experience. The three interconnected platforms, spanning 6.3 hectares, are designed to accommodate a community of 12,000 residents. Each is meticulously crafted to fulfil a specific purpose—living, research, or lodging—while adhering to the principles of sustainable urban development. Essentialy, it is a network of floating platforms seamlessly integrated with the land, offering an immersive connection to the sea. With the potential to expand from its initial three platforms to over 20, the city is poised to accommodate a growing population while maintaining its commitment to sustainability.

    The Platforms

    For curious minds and adventurers, the research platform is a must-visit. This co-working space also houses a maritime research hub and a shared winter garden. Inside, a temperature-controlled central atrium provides respite from Busan's sharp winters while featuring a forest of hydroponic towers—a spectacle and a source of fresh, locally grown food for all.

    The living platform embodies the essence of sustainable living, a blend of modernity and tradition. Here, a village of residential buildings stands as a testament to circular living principles. Infused with local cultural programming and a community backyard at its heart, it fosters an environment where residents connect, share, and celebrate a combined commitment to a greener, more sustainable future.

    And for the intrepid traveller seeking more than just a visit but a holistic experience, the eco-lodging platform is a must-visit. Imagine waking up in harbour-view guestrooms, indulging in organic dining experiences, and lounging on communal terraces overlooking stunning vistas. The skylit greenhouse amenities offer a unique retreat for nature enthusiasts. Finally, with its elongated ground level activated by eco-retail and local dining options, it invites you to indulge in local flavours and immerse yourself in an atmosphere designed to maximise waterfront views and unparalleled relaxation.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Shreya Cheema & Kartikeya Shankar

Quelle/Source: Outlook Traveller, 21.01.2024

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