New Urbanism: Smart, Sustainable Growth– Songdo 2013

By Don Southerton, Editor

Since researching and then authoring a book on Songdo International Business District (IBD), I have watched the Incheon project and similar new urban communities face a number of challenges. Beyond huge development costs, the vision for these communities requires not only providing but also sustaining a high quality of living.

With regard to Songdo IBD, the community rises from reclaimed land on the western coast of South Korea. More significantly, the project embraces high standards for design, sustainability and, most importantly, an unparalleled lifestyle. Specifically the developer boldly set out to transform and reshape the model for urban communities.

That said, with regard to Songdo and other new urban projects I have been drawn to a question, “Have high profile new urbanism communities met their early visions and expectations?”

Although like with similar project that were stalled by the global recession, Songdo now is back on its growth plan. Gazing out from Songdo’s North East Trade Tower’s 68th floor observation area on a cold February morning, I could see the city more than 50% complete. When completed in 2017, Songdo IBD will be home to 65, 000 residents with about 27,000 people already residing within the project. Equally encouraging, the halls of Chadwick International School Korea now ring with the sound of children, many of whom are carrying laptops. Enrollment over the next few years is expected to grow from the current 700 students to 1200.

Songdo IBD NEATT

NEATT ( on right)

Looking at Songdo IBD, several areas deserve review…

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and Sustainability – Today, Songdo IBD boasts 13.7 million square feet of LEED-certified space. Along with continued plans to meet LEEDs standards in new construction, the project’s sustainability features a state of art cogeneration plant for electricity with waste heat collected and used in warm buildings with the city. Somewhat of a surprise, and in conjunction with a robust recycling program, Songdo also has the world’s largest pneumatic waste collection system with garbage from across the city directed into a network of large underground pipes, which carry the waste to central facilities. This eliminates the need for the fleet of garbage trucks seen making morning collections in most cities and results in the reduction in traffic, related noise and vehicular pollution. Visiting the collection center, one quickly appreciates the city-wide complexity in the consolidating process and management of the waste.

Green and Open Space Per the Master Plan, 40% of Songdo IBD has been designated to be open space. Looking down from the NEATT observation floor, and in contrast with the high urban density one finds across much of the greater Seoul region, the strong commitment to providing open and green space is apparent from the 100 acre Central Park to canals to walk and bike pathways.

Smart Cities One final dimension of Songdo IBD meeting its vision is the project’s strategic partnership with and commitment from Cisco to become a leading example of a smart and connected city. For example, along with technology to link and share data across an integrated network, buildings and residents will be able to better, fine tune energy demands and monitor and control apartment lights and temperature. In all, there will be constant IP connectivity across Songdo IBD.

Expectations Overall, Songdo IBD is making good on its promises and pledges. As expected with any project the size and scale of Songdo IBD, I see some adaptation to new trends. One modification from the early vision of the project is a shift from offering traditional commercial office development to university campuses and biotech research centers– a more knowledge-based focus and community. Of course, sustaining the vision over time will require continued support of government, institutions, businesses, and residents. However, I expect that visitors to Songdo (Korean and foreigners) will appreciate the community’s new urbanism focus and envy a life style in which one can live, walk to work and stroll through Central Park.

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