Nexgen | PMI's 2022 Most Influential Projects | #MIP2022
Nexgen will set the benchmark for how cities of the future should be built. The project is less about solar panels and water recycling, but more about social inclusivity. One of its most unique features is its focus on mobility to reduce stress and isolation and promote social engagement. Set to begin construction in 2024, Nexgen is set to be the pioneer for sustainable cities to come.
For envisioning the next generation of net-zero cities
The great global migration to urban areas comes at a high cost to the environment: Cities are responsible for more than 70 percent of energy-related carbon emissions and 50 percent of global waste, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Governments the world over are pursuing ambitious projects to beat back those alarming stats. But in Cairo, project leaders have set their sights far higher: building the world’s first climate-positive city—Nexgen.
Unveiled in March by Dubai developer URB, Nexgen will span 580 hectares (1,433 acres) and includes self-sustaining plans for food, energy and water production to support 35,000 residents. The city is projected to actually produce more food and energy than it consumes, helping establish the made-from-scratch metropolis as “the next evolution in sustainable cities,” says URB CEO Baharash Bagherian.
And while there’s certainly a clear focus on racking up environmental wins, URB is thinking bigger. To fuel true positive social impact, the company divided the megaproject into categories—including energy, mobility, health and waste—and then asked team members to create holistic solutions that delivered on multiple levels.
Making the city supremely walkable, for instance, minimizes carbon emissions, supports lower-income workers and buoys mental and physical health. With that kind of potential payoff, the team is out to build what it hopes will be the most walkable city on earth. And they plan to reach this ambitious goal by optimizing the city’s orientation to centralize building density while adding cooling features, such as walkway shading and increased wind flow within residential clusters.
Energy modeling, microclimate analysis and solar radiation analysis helped guide those decisions. And those tools, in turn, informed later choices, like restricting vehicular access to the city’s ring road and integrating alternative mobility methods—such as electric buggies and an autonomous electric vehicle shuttle system.
“Great sustainable design always focuses on passive techniques before considering any active strategies,” Bagherian says. By squeezing maximum value from decisions that require no additional budget, there’s more money left to devote to innovative features that do require funding, such as solar atmospheric water generators that produce clean drinking water from humidity in the air. But even then, he’s quick to point out “the payback on investments like recycling systems and renewable energy are more than recovered through significantly reduced energy and water bills.”
Sustainability cred may draw people to the new city but keeping them there for an extended time will require more than shady walkways and electric buggies. To that end, the project plan features a five-star eco-resort, glamping lodges and an ecotourism visitor center, along with shops, restaurants and cultural attractions. Nexgen will offer 9,000 residential units, plus a full slate of medical facilities, from a wellness center to an autism village.
Here, too, city planners took an expansive view, not only including medical facilities but also ensuring every element of the urban environment promotes healthy habits, such as walking outdoors and eating fresh produce. “Urban farming promotes healthy eating—and it provides a type of social glue, increasing community cohesion and social interaction,” Bagherian says.
Though URB hasn’t yet announced when construction will begin on Nexgen, Bagherian expects the project to become a new benchmark for sustainable development. Against the current backdrop of climate crisis, “creating net-zero cities that provide food, energy and water security is no longer a choice—it has become a necessity,” he says.