...A more successful example has appeared eight miles from South Korea’s largest international airport: Songdo International Business District, built over 12 years on 600 hectares of reclaimed waterfront land at a cost of $40bn. It is both the world’s first smart city and largest private development in history. Computers embedded in the streets and structures form a citywide information network used for monitoring and maintenance. A pneumatic waste disposal system, obviating the need for garbage cans and trucks, directs all refuse to an automatic central processing facility underground.
With all its built-in computational power, Songdo aims to go beyond the concept of the high technology smart city to become a technologically “ubiquitous city”. Data sensors continually collect information on the city’s flows of water, energy, and traffic for ongoing optimisation. A partnership between Songdo’s builders and Cisco Systems – the Silicon Valley maker of networking equipment – has so far led to the installation of a “telepresence” system, which enables instant audiovisual communication between residents. It also promises the citizenry of Songdo future domestic niceties such as appliances controllable by smartphones and systems to track the whereabouts of their children.
On a private tour, representatives from developer and majority stakeholder Gale International described Songdo to me as not just a technological project but an “urbanistic” one. It synthesises, they said, the best elements of such classically great metropolises as Paris (wide boulevards), New York (Songdo’s own Central Park occupies nearly 10% of its land area), and Venice (visitors can boat down canals dug for the purpose). But not even they could deny that Songdo, with its often empty public spaces and – apart from a few deliberately traditional-looking restaurants – eerie historical uniformity, has yet to replicate the urban essence of those places.