Welcome to Songdo, the new smart city, 40 kilometres from Seoul. Its creators are hoping to draw residents away from South Korea's bustling metropolis with the promise of a new, smarter way of life. But life here in South Korea is already pretty smart. So what does a city like Songdo feel like? At first glance, its gleaming high rises look like any other Korean city, except for the empty space around them. Korean residents are more used to seeing other tower blocks from their living room window, not sea birds. Because this is a city built literally from the ground up, on land freshly reclaimed from the sea.
A twenty-first century frontier town, sprouting not beside a railway, but besides Seoul's international airport.
So what do you build when you're starting from scratch? Songdo's creators promise a truly green city with 40 percent parkland, total broadband coverage, and sensors to monitor traffic and the environment. But the American firm behind the development says the city has also learned from the past.
We have a performing arts centre that's situated on the water out on a point, just like the Sydney Opera House. The idea was to make something iconic like that. We have a Central Park with high rise buildings surrounding and ringing that Central Park, just like New York's Central Park. And lastly, we have a canal within our Central Park that's somewhat similar to Venice's canal system, even with a water taxi system. You can take a boat and ride on down through our canal.
The cityscape might be ambitious, but some of the most impressive architecture lies underground. One of the things you notice about Songdo is that there are no rubbish trucks. Instead all household waste is sucked from individual kitchens through a vast network of underground pipes to processing centres like this one. Once here, it's automatically sorted and processed to be kinder to the environment. In future, household waste will be used to generate renewable energy. But like many of Songdo's technical innovations, it's not yet fully operational. And that's because the city's roads and cafes and shopping malls are still half empty. Less than 20 percent of the commercial office space is occupied.
Incentives for companies to move here from Seoul aren't always strong enough to outweigh the cost.
And that's despite the state of the art technology built into the infrastructure here. For $30,000 a year, pupils at Chadwick International can share lessons with their classmates in California via a high definition video conferencing system which is so realistic, staff say, that a spilled glass of water on one side causes students on the other to jump back. Helen Lee moved here recently to work at the school. Apart from the technology she says, the best thing about a planned city is the open space.
They can actually do the gardening. They can actually grow blueberries. They can actually pick up eggs from the chicken who just laid an egg-- a warm egg. And I don't remember when I saw a warm egg from a chicken.
Not everything is easier here. Transport links into Seoul aren't as quick or simple as they seem on paper, and Songdo doesn't yet have the diverse creativity of South Korea's capital city. But the country's smart city pioneers aren't giving up yet.
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