Discover Songdo, the $35 Billion South Korean City Built to Banish Cars

Songdo International Business District is still under development but already boasts 100,000 residents, who don't drive and are able to walk to work thanks to mixed urban and sustainability planning.
Danielle  De La Bastide

Much like Saudi Arabia’s grand plan to build a super city full of all the latest tech and model amenities, South Korea is in the midst of developing a $35 billion district, about the size of downtown Boston.

The city is designed to eliminate the need for driving and in a similar move to the middle eastern kingdom, use sustainability as an avenue towards economic growth.

Discover Songdo, the $35 Billion South Korean City Built to Banish Cars
Source: Cosentini Associates 

Called Songdo International Business District, this smart city prioritizes mass transit such as buses, subways, and bikes instead of cars. According to the developers Gale International, the city will be finished by 2020. The company has a 61 percent stake in Songdo, South Korean steel-making company, Posco has 30 percent, and the remaining 9 percent was acquired by Morgan Stanley Real Estate.

The city sits on reclaimed land along Incheon’s waterfront, 65 km (40 miles) southwest of South Korea’s capital city Seoul. Developers aim to make the first planning stage of the district eco-friendly by designing the layout specifically to reduce the need for cars.

"What you see today in Songdo, a city that is compact and very much walkable, is a direct outcome of this thoughtful approach to planning," Stan Gale, the chairman of Gale International told Business Insider.

Songdo is described as a “global business hub” and “home to a variety of residential and retail developments.” The district was built as a part of former President Lee Ayung-Bak’s plans to promote low carbon and sustainable growth.

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With this in mind, the city dedicates 40 percent of its area to outdoor spaces for leisure, with 16 miles of bicycle lanes, a central park and waterways all based on the aesthetics of New York City’s green-space Central Park and Venice, Italy’s canals.

Discover Songdo, the $35 Billion South Korean City Built to Banish Cars
Source: Cosentini Associates 

“In a lot of ways, it’s the city Koreans want to show the world, in that it’s a clean, futuristic-looking place with no visible poverty,” said Colin Marshall, a Seoul-based essayist who writes about cities to the Los Angeles Times.

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The benefit of building a city from scratch means developers can invest in the latest tech that has yet to be seen in established urban areas. Its garbage disposal system alone is a keen example of this.

Residents of Songdo don’t need garbage trucks. Instead, all household and office waste are “sucked” through a series of underground tubes leading to sorting facilities where the refuse is processed, cleaned and treated. Eventually, this waste will be used as a source of energy for the community.

Discover Songdo, the $35 Billion South Korean City Built to Banish Cars
Source: Cosentini Associates 

Using a mixed-use urban plan, apartment buildings and business are all built 12 minutes by bus or subway stops. One hundred buildings are also LEED-certified, i.e., the world’s most widely used green rating system.

Jonathan Thorpe, CIO for the American developer Gale International, which built Songdo, told the BBC in 2013, ”It’s the occupants who make a city. You're trying to create a diversity and a vitality that organic development creates, in and of itself," he explained, "so it's a challenge to try and replicate that in a masterplan setting. At the same time, with a master plan you can size the infrastructure to make sure the city works - now and in 50 years' time.”

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