Eco-friendly utopia – Songdo


The so-called “city of the future” or “high-tech city” sounds like a pie in the sky concept that only happens in a Hollywood blockbuster.

But Songdo International Business District in South Korea, also described by its developer as a “high-tech utopia”, is perhaps the closest blueprint for this kind of futuristic project in many ways.

The experiential project, started in 2005 and targeted to be fully completed in 2018, has an idealistic vision that sounds impressive and appealing by theory.

Envisioned to be a sustainable smart city, 40% of the city plan will be green space, while all the infrastructure and buildings have been designed with a sustainable environment in mind.

The metropolis has been installed with sensors that can monitor temperature, energy usage and traffic conditions. This system is smart enough to alert a citizen when a bus is due – in theory.

Also a key highlight is the smart waste disposal system, which sees household trash sucked from each kitchen into underground tunnels and transited to a central waste processing station where the waste will be automatically sorted and recycled.

With its futuristic and technological innovations and sustainable ecosystem, the city can arguably be an exemplar of what’s called a “smart city”, albeit the current state of the city is still not yet quite broken in.

Built to lure foreign business to Korea, the US$40 billion experimental project has been under construction for 11 years, and counting.

Glossy images of the magnificent architecture and almost surreal lifestyle keep circulating online, but they haven’t captured much of the real life in Songdo; more the fantasy of the outside world.

Songdo remains as a would-be “City of the Future” designed to accommodate some 500,000 residents by 2030, but home to less than 90,000 to date. It’s underpopulated with reportedly only 20% of the office space being occupied.

Online media has captured scenarios in Songdo showing skyscrapers looming over empty pedestrians, and an empty exhibition hall front with a “Tomorrow City” sign.

Apart from the slow pace, there will be more challenges ahead for this ambitious project.

First, while much effort has been put into promoting the city’s sweeping sensor network and CCTV cameras that are hidden throughout the city, many who are not ready to compromise on privacy will hesitate about moving in.

Second, transportation that links with Seoul is still in the preliminary stage, which is a disadvantage when it comes to drawing overseas companies.

While it’s still too early to judge if this Petri dish of smart city development has been overly grandiose from the start, Songdo may succeed in further demonstrating the technological prowess of South Korea.

The rebirth of Hamburg-Harburg Harbor

In Germany, an imaginative eco-smart city is sprouting up on the secluded shores of Hamburg-Harburg Harbor, setting out to be Germany’s first environmental initiative.

The urban renewal project – to be completed in three phrases – looks to breathe new life into the forgotten shores, which were once the site of a comb factory and ship building area dating back to the 19th century, and now aiming to blend a sense of modern chic into historical aesthetics.

When completed, the site will be a greenery canopy filled with gardens and towers covered by roof gardens, which serve the purpose of balancing the temperature from inside and out.

Designed by Tec Architecture and engineering firm ARUP, the site will incorporate a mixed use of renewable energy generation, where lighting will be powered by a solar system, natural gas will be replaced by solar water heating, while almost 10% of the city’s power needs will be supported by two large wind turbines on top of skyscrapers.

Neapolis aiming to become a smart city

Presenting an even bigger ambition is Neapolis Smart EcoCity, a new eco-minded development in the Mediterranean that hopes to become the prototype for a smart eco city globally.

Adjacent to Paphos, Cyprus’ tourist epicentre, Neapolis will encompass leisure, tourism, healthcare and education with 800,000 square metres of green area. It is looking to house some 15,000 residents in 6,000 villas and apartments.

Designed by Leptos Group, the sustainable city plans to have a Neapolis health park, a university, a theme park and a cultural centre highlighting the goddess Aphrodite, all integrated with eco-friendly principles and advanced eco technologies.

The 1.3 million square metre site will be home to a vibrant list of development, including a state-of-the-art total care healthcare park, an innovation research and development centre, an international business centre as well as a private university.

On the leisure front, the city will be equipped with a commercial park and a High Street Retail. The Aphrodite gardens will signify theatres and museums, and the town centre will offer a wide range of entertainment outlets and restaurants.

These examples of smart cities from around the world serve as a blunt reminder to Hong Kong where seven million people “hide” in a “forest” made out of residential buildings and shopping malls which have sprung up on the ground and underground in town. And more are coming at Tsim Sha Tsui West, Causeway Bay, Happy Valley and Admiralty by 2017 following a public construction project from the government.

It’s time to stop this manic construction routine and take a look outside and learn from the cities that are already way ahead of us.

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