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Developer-driven sustainable communities: lessons from a case study of The Sustainable City in Dubai

Panel: 5. Smart and sustainable communities

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Angela Sanguinetti, University of California, Davis, USA
Alan Meier, The Berkeley Lab, UC Berkeley
Nermin Dessouky, University of California, Geography Graduate Group, USA
Sarah Outcault, Energy and Efficiency Institute, USA


In Dubai, a private developer conceived, built, and now manages, a gated community called “The Sustainable City” (TSC), with more than 2,000 residents, shops, a school, and a hotel. TSC was purpose-built to consume almost no energy and be especially frugal with water, harnessing cutting-edge technologies and green building practices to promise residents both efficiency and luxury.

But can a culture of sustainability be cultivated to ensure the behaviors requisite for achieving sustainability goals in developer-driven planned communities?

A long history of grassroots intentional communities demonstrates how a culture of sustainability emerges from the design of the built environment together with the shared purpose of engaged residents. In developer-driven planned sustainable communities, residents may not cohere around a common vision; they may lack knowledge regarding sustainable practices; and they may not develop relationships amenable to sharing resources and getting social and economic needs met within the community.

This research investigates the community culture of TSC, with attention to similarities and differences relative to grassroots intentional communities with sustainability goals. TSC has managed to attract residents who subscribe to the sustainability ethos, create a sense of community, and foster informal social interaction, yet a minority of residents participates in community affairs in a meaningful and regular way.

The social aspects of community have largely been facilitated by the management, which does not seem to be economically sustainable. Key to TSC’s success is that the developer has remained involved and been able to iteratively improve the physical design and systems, as well as social structure, to adapt to changing conditions and residents’ needs. Lessons for other developer-driven sustainable communities are drawn from this case study.


Download this paper as pdf: 5-071-19_Sanguinetti.pdf

Download this presentation as pdf: 5-071-19_Sanguinetti_Presentation.pdf