The off-the-shelf city with a $40 billion price tag

Could Songdo in South Korea be the template for future development? Could it be as simple as picking a site, picking a city off the shelf and paying $40 billion? Only time will tell but the South Korean City of Songdo is the first of its kind and could lay the foundation for the future development of sustainable cities.

Claire Martin, who teaches design at the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT University in Melbourne, describes Songdo as an “instant city built from scratch that can be packaged up in a box and sold off the shelf at “$40 billion a pop to countries where demand for urban life is rising.” This new city located just 60km south-west of Seoul and is almost one third compete and is turning the heads of investors, developers and the planning world alike.

Built on 1500 acres of reclaimed land of the Yellow Sea the purpose built “economic hub” comes with a hefty price of around $40 billion but boasts some of the most modern technological advancements to be seen in cities to date.

The development of the city has been launched on the back of former President Lee Myun Bak’s attempt to promote sustainable low carbon growth derived from the government’s stimulus packages to develop the country’s own infrastructure throughout 2007/08.

The city when complete will house over 100 new towers throughout its main district built to some of the “strictest environmental standards for energy consumption and waste at a price tag of close to $10billion”, according to Rita Lobo of World Finance. The entirety of the development has been designed with sustainability in mind, from the futuristic rubbish disposal system that includes an underground network of tubes sucking waste from houses and offices to vast sorting facilities to be processed and treated, to specifically designed water pipes that separate potable and non-potable water immediately directing the latter to showers and toilets in each house, to a 40 per cent allocation of land to open outdoor spaces.

Credit: Aly Song/Reuters/ 'A parisian ghost town in China'
However, the deeper you delve into this topic the more you find parallels with the ghost town developments of pop up cities throughout China. It seems however that Songdo continues to have all the answers and in an attempt mitigate the “ghost town” effect has undertaken a number of measures that seek to attract residents and businesses alike. The city has strategically attracted top quality education facilities to attract residents to fill the 22,000 plus residential units. In an attempt to lobby further investment it has also has offered significant tax reductions, subsidies and estate support in an attempt to attract business investment, including no property tax for 10 years, rent reductions for some small and medium sized businesses, and other subsidies for employees of companies with over 30 per cent international investment.

This is a very ambitious project and only time will tell if it’s successful. Nevertheless the development is at the forefront of technological design and development creating what Rita Lobo describes as a “living organism” and will well and truly be a catalyst for future urban development, albeit with a hefty price tag.

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