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The Business of Utopia: Estidama and the Road to the Sustainable City


Over the last couple of decades, global urban politics has experienced the increasing emergence of ambitious megaprojects aiming to create sustainable cities capable of facing severe ecological and economic crises. This essay argues that the genesis of eco-cities is grounded in a strong wave of utopianism that can have potential negative socioecological implications, and by looking at the current development strategies of Abu Dhabi, it aims to explore the interrelations among utopia, sustainability, and urban politics. Using empirical material, Abu Dhabi’s development plans are examined to understand how visions of the good society and of the good city are theorized and integrated into the policy agenda. The focus is on Estidama, a program for social and urban change based on the sheik’s dream of transforming Abu Dhabi into a sustainable global city, and on its main incarnation: Masdar City. In the analysis of convergences and divergences with western utopianism, this essay explains how images of the ideal city are used to boost the local economy and fulfill the political interests of the ruling class. Ultimately, the reasons behind the association eco-city/ideal city are elucidated, and the role of utopia in the quest for the sustainable society is questioned.

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