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  • Welcome to TDC. This is our mini-documentary on the most ambitious, fascinating infrastructure

  • Megaprojects of the near future.

  • The rulers of the United Arab Emirates have insane amounts of money to spend. Thanks to

  • everyone’s thirst for oil, theyve been on a construction spree unlike any the world

  • has ever seen for such a small country, investing in one ambitious infrastructure project after

  • another. At one point, 24 percent of all the world’s construction cranes we in Dubai.

  • Unfortunately, that was before the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown, which led to much

  • of the investment in the city drying up faster than the water on somebody who just got out

  • of the pool at the Burj Khalifa. But the government insists that many of these projects have simply

  • been delayed, and are putting their money where their mouth is with the recent approval

  • of a $32 billion expansion of Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport that will break

  • ground by the end of 2014. When complete, itll suddenly have the capacity to become

  • the busiest airport in the world in both total passengers - at 220 million a year - and total

  • cargo of 12 million annual tonnes of goods that can move through it--that’s almost

  • 3 times more than what takes off from the runways of the world’s current leader, Hong

  • Kong’s International Airport. It’s terminals will able to hold 100 of the massive new Airbus

  • A380’s that are over 2/3ds of a football field long and cost $300 million a pop. The

  • UAE’s Emirates airline already owns more of those planes than anyone else in the world.

  • It’s the largest airline in the Middle East and will eventually move into the Al Maktoum

  • airport to help jump start activity. The government’s plan is for the airfield to be the heartbeat

  • of a city within the larger city of Dubai called World Central, which the UAE thinks

  • will be home to 900,000 residents in the near future. The airport also hopes to be the central

  • hub for the emerging Middle East, North African, and South Asian economic bloc known as MENASA.

  • But time will tell whether the Shaikh’s vision for Dubai actually becomes a reality,

  • or fades like some vicious mirage.

  • This is Songdo International Business District, the world’s most futuristic urban area.

  • It’s being built 40 miles southwest of the second-most populated city in the world, Seoul,

  • South Korea. The $40 billion project is along the waterfront in the city of Incheon and

  • is embracing two key concepts that urban planners are in love with: The first is Aerotropolis,

  • which means the airport is integrated into the urban center instead of banishing it far

  • outside of the city. This allows for shorter trips to and from the place that’s going

  • to get you out of town--thisll be an emerging pattern in 21st century planning as air travel

  • continues to become accessible to more and more people in our increasingly interconnected

  • world. Songdo is brilliantly directly connected to the airport via the 7-mile long Incheon

  • bridge so youve just got a straight shot that gets you there in like 10 minutes that’s

  • also got these incredible views and is the first thing visitors see coming into the city.

  • The other key theme is Ubiquitous City, which is a uniquely Korean concept where every device,

  • component, service is linked to an informational network through wireless computing technology,

  • allowing for greater coordination and a more efficient and synchronized city than has ever

  • been possible before. An example of this is Songdo’s trash system, which won’t rely

  • on garbage trucks, because a network of tubes will suck in the garbage straight from the

  • can and through a system of pipes, transport it efficiently to treatment facilities. Songdo’s

  • so dedicated to being a model for sustainability that it has set aside 40% of its land area

  • to be outdoor spaces like parks and itll become the first city in the world outside

  • of the United States to achieve LEED certification, which is the highest energy consumption and

  • waste standards possible with currently available technology. As a tip-of-the-hat to other great

  • cities, Songdo will also incorporate replicas of New York’s Central Park and Venice’s

  • historic canals. Overall, construction is currently half done. It already has 67,000

  • people living there studying and working at its many schools, including the foreign campuses

  • of four American universities, but it’s struggled to attract Korean businesses as

  • the government is refusing to give tax incentives for relocation, because that would create

  • an unfair playing field favoring Songdo over other cities in the country. Still, if it

  • stays squarely focused on the future, Songdo’s a long-term investment that’s likely to

  • pay off.

  • Nicaragua is about to embark on what may be the boldest and riskiest Megaproject in the

  • history of the world. One that will change it forever. It’s going to build the biggest

  • canal in the world . The $50 billion Nicaragua Grand Canal will cut the country in half to

  • connect the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific, running through the biggest lake in Central

  • America. At 173-miles-long, itll dwarf the 120 mile-long Suez Canal in Egypt and

  • directly compete with the Panama Canal 250 miles to the south, through which more than

  • 15,000 ships already pass each year. But in the coming years, many more ships full of

  • goods and raw materials are going to try and pass back and forth from the Pacific to the

  • Atlantic to connect Europe, Brazil and the Eastern Coast of the United States, with China

  • and the rest of Asia.

  • The story of how little six-million-man Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Western

  • Hemisphere, is able to afford such an expensive project is a fascinating case study of globalization,

  • and how capitalism is increasingly driving geopolitical decision-making. In June of last

  • year, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s Sandanista party also controlled parliament

  • and - without any real debate - gave a 50-year, no-bid contract to Chinese telecommunications

  • magnate Wang Jing to build and manage the proposed canal. And, it just so happens that,

  • also last year, according to a report in the LA Times, Wang hosted a number of Nicaraguan

  • officials and businessmen on a trip to China, where the powerful and connected Wang supposedly

  • flaunted his extreme wealth and was accompanied at all times by Chinese military officers

  • and other high-ranking governmental officials. So, it’s tough to believe him when he insists

  • that the Chinese government is not financially backing the project, especially when we already

  • know that China is using state financed companies to buy more and more assets in the West. The

  • opportunity to own the world’s most valuable shipping lane seems too tempting for the Chinese

  • government to pass up.

  • The supposedly democratic government of Nicaragua is using a page out of China’s playbook,

  • by refusing to release any of the studies about the impacts of the canal until December

  • 2014, the same month construction will begin. That’s because there is a loooong list of

  • environmental and humanitarian concerns. The project will tear through countless ecosystems

  • and communities, and rip into the source of much of the country’s fresh water, Lake

  • Nicaragua. The residents whose land is on the canal route have received no word on what

  • the government plans to do for them in terms of compensation and relocation.

  • But, as easy as it is to criticize the way the project is being handled, it’s also

  • fairly hypocritical of me, as an American, to mount a very convincing argument against

  • the plan. Afterall, about a hundred years ago, US President Theodore Roosevelt basically

  • took control of Panama and pushed through the canal there, a project that’s benefitted

  • America time and time again, and has made Panama economically better off in the long

  • run. But were not living in 1914...

  • Now is the time of social media-fueled revolution, where images and video fly around the world

  • instantly, empowering even the poorest locals to use the power of the global community to

  • rally support for their cause and exert political pressure in unpredictable ways. So, what I’m

  • saying is that it may have been easy for President Ortega see all that money flying around and

  • secretly, singlehandedly approve a massively disruptive project like this, but when those

  • bulldozers start tearing apart the countryside - and people’s homes - there’s probably

  • going to be hell to pay for not consulting the voters at all. This could be shaping up

  • to be another one of those important moments of struggle in world history between the powerful

  • have’s and the have nots.

  • On the one hand, you have the limitless funding of the Chinese who want that flag-in-the-dirt,

  • statement-making moment for their country of staking a claim in the Americas. We know

  • the canal would benefit corporations in the west through the shipping and trade benefits

  • I outlined earlier. And with construction set to begin in Nicaragua next month - there

  • doesn’t seem to be any stopping it from starting.

  • But on the other hand, this thing is going to take six years at a minimum to finish,

  • and if weve learned anything from recent history, it’s that a lot can happen in six

  • weeks or six months, let alone six years.

  • On a person-to-person basis, the United Arab Emirates has the biggest Ecological Footprint

  • in the world thanks to its prolific oil production and the massive construction boom that’s

  • been going on there for the last decade. So it’s surprising to learn that the UAE is

  • home to Masdar--the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city. To meet this ambitious goal,

  • it’s powered only by renewable energy, like a 54-acre 88,000 panel solar farm beyond the

  • citieswalls. That’s right, I said walls. The designers studied ancient cities to learn

  • the most effective planning methods to reduce energy consumption. One of the key things

  • are walls that helps to keep the high, hot desert winds away from its inhabitants. They

  • also raised the entire foundation of the site a few feet above the surrounding land to keep

  • Masdar cooler and spaced the buildings much closer together to keep the streets and walkways

  • narrow, and mostly in the shade. These techniques - combined with 130-foot wind towers that

  • suck air from above and convert it into a cool breeze blowing on the street - mean Masdar

  • is a comfortable 70 degrees fahrenheit when just a few meters away, the thermostat rises

  • well above 100. Plus, there’s no driving in the city and any car that enters is parked

  • at the outskirts. A system of driverless electric vehicles then ferry people from place to place

  • underground, and a light rail system is also available above ground, which means there’s

  • no need for streets. And in a move that cuts both water and electricity consumption more

  • than half, there are no light switches or water taps--everything is controlled by movement

  • sensors. This unprecedented level of environmental consciousness has won it hard-earned endorsements

  • from environmental conservation groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. The

  • German engineering giant Siemens has located its Middle East headquarters there, as has

  • the International Renewable Energy Agency. The Masdar Institute for Science and Technology

  • - a small postgraduate university that was founded through a collaboration with MIT - occupies

  • one of Masdar’s first completed buildings and is already producing great work and first-class

  • researchers. So the city undeniably has a solid foundation, but it’s got a lot to

  • do still if it’s going to meet its ambitious goal of housing 50,000 residents and hosting

  • offices for 60,000 more commuters. The city’s co-founder admits that Masdar is “a fraction

  • of what it was supposed to be back in 2006 when we announced it. At the beginning of

  • the project, nobody really anticipated how difficult it is to build a city." This underscores

  • the point many urban planners around the world have made: that we should be focused on making

  • our existing cities more sustainable instead of building brand new ones. But even if Masdar

  • only teaches us one or two major things about what’s possible when it comes to sustainable

  • urban design - and it does seem like it’s already done that - then itll have been

  • worth it, even if it takes much longer to achieve its overall vision, or if it ultimately

  • fails. Because let’s be honest, the UAE was going to spend that $20 billion in oil

  • revenue on something, so it’s better for everyone that its going to an important experiment

  • like Masdar rather than another row of gold and marble crusted hotel skyscrapers or an

  • electricity-sucking indoor snow park.

  • This is the future--maglev trains. Japan’s all aboard. Theyre spending a staggering

  • $85 billion over the next 30 years to connect the island’s three largest cities: Tokyo

  • to Nagoya to Osaka. That’s over three hundred miles that youll be able to cover in about

  • 67 minutes by racing through the countryside at over 300 miles per hour. Maglev technology

  • uses powerful magnetic charges to move rail cars that float several inches above a concrete

  • guideway, rather than riding on steel wheels. This frictionless system allows for a smoother

  • ride at significantly higher speeds than traditional high speed rail. In contrast, California’s

  • planned high speed rail system thatll eventually connect San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San

  • Diego, will only be able to travel at top speeds of 220 mph, but its estimated overall

  • cost is ten billion dollars less than the Japanese system and will cover a distance

  • two and a half times as long. The Chinese city of Shanghai has had a short maglev line

  • in operation since 2004, but the Japanese line is the world’s first intercity link

  • to gain public approval. The project’s called Chuo Shinkansen - or as the Japanese refer