Learnings from Development of South Korean City of Songdo

Can smart city leaders and partners understand and marshal their experiences so they themselves, as well as other aspiring smart cities, can learn from both mistakes as well as from global good practices?

India is in the middle of heightened activities taking place around the Smart Cities Mission of Government of India that seeks to develop 100 smart cities in a time bound manner and through innovative models of financing the development of these smart cities. This thrust to support urbanization will require new and innovative ways to manage the complexity of urban living and demands evolvement of new ways to target problems of overcrowding, energy consumption, resource management and environmental protection.

It is in this context that Indian Smart Cities will need to develop not just as an innovative modus operandi for future urban living but as a key strategy to tackle a huge range of issues, not just concerning efficiency, energy management and sustainability, but also including topics like poverty, inequality, employment and prosperity. This will require mobilising all a city’s resources and coordinating its actors using new media technologies and forward looking joined-up policies. The key issue that is confronting all of us is “how do we do this”? Can smart city leaders and partners understand and marshal their experiences so they themselves, as well as other aspiring smart cities, can learn from both mistakes as well as from global good practices?

Government of India and the city administrations will need to address the urgent challenge of reducing the time and resources required and perhaps short circuit development paths and leapfrog into a better and more sustainable future for all who live in, work in and use cities’resources.

Unlike retrofitting and redevelopment; greenfield developmentscould be located either within the limits of the ULB or within the limits of the local Urban Development Authority (UDA). Pan-city solutions, as per the guidelines of government of India, envisages application of selected Smart Solutions to the existing city-wide infrastructure. Application of Smart Solutions will involve the use of technology, information and data to make infrastructure and services better. 
For example, applying Smart Solutions in the transport sector (intelligent traffic management system) and reducing average commute time or cost of citizens will have positive effects on productivity and quality of life of citizens. Another example can be waste water recycling and smart metering which can make a huge contribution to better water management in the city. It is important to note that pan-city is an additional feature to be provided which can also be cross cutting across plans of retrofitting, redevelopment and green field development.

Songdo has been developed by the government of South Korea as an international city around an Incheon international airport and where 61 foreign cities with over 1 million people can be reached within 3.5 hours flying distance. Thus, making one-day business based on 2.5 billion people possible. The city is part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) and it is located southwest of Incheon Metropolitan City. The city was built on reclaimed land based on the Basic Plan of Public Waters Reclamation for Songdo area established in 1979. Main objective of developing Songdo is to support international business operations of South Korean stakeholders relating to IT, BT and R&D.

The city is still under development with plans to complete the development of city infrastructure by 2022 capable of supporting 101,780 households and 259,669 people. It is pertinent to mention here that Songdo, like all other smart cities developed by South Korea, is being developed as per the national Green Growth Strategy and Ubiquitous City plan adopted by government of South Korea as part of the nation’s project to build a cutting edge, environment friendly and resilient cities.

The vision around which the project of Songdo was conceptualized is to build and provide citizens with a living environment that is convenient, pleasant, and healthy. Great emphasis is provided in ensuring strict monitoring of all city development activities to ensure that the project adheres to the timelines of completion.

Songdo smart city development is managed by Incheon U-City Corporation, established on a Public Private Partnership model, a model somewhat like the establishment of SPVs mandated under government of India Smart city mission. Incheon U – City corporation is exclusively tasked to take care of not only Songdo smart city development and management, but to manage the operations of entire IFEZ’s U-City operations.

Songdo U-City provides seamless services to the residents both in the domain of public services as well as private services. to summarize, the city administration through Incheon U-City corporation provides can be dividedinto public services and private services. About 24 public and private sector services are provided under the categories of traffic, crime prevention, facility management, disaster prevention, environment, and citizen information services. The services provided under the private sector category are related to home, store, learning, money, health, and car. It is worth noting here that all the services are integrated and are managed through a single, integrated and centralised control centre based upon Whole of Government (WoG) approach.
In addition, the implementing agencies ensure that the solutions used to provide these services are environment friendly and comply with the green growth policy of the country. Extensive utilization of new media technologies such as sensors, RFID, U-Bike and mobile devices is made to ensure minimum carbon footprint. Hallmark of Songdo U-City operations is innovative and extensive use of Big Data and data analytics to monitor the services as well as the activities in the city. Songdo U-City collects 24-hours real-time data from onsite equipment such as CCTV, sensor devices, traffic detectors and other sensors. The fact that the data from various departments is fed to the integrated control centre ensures that various departments can collaborate with each other while maintaining their jurisdictional responsibilities. The analytics systems deployed at the control centre are capable of collating data from multiple sources and ensuring that the analysis of data provides cutting edge and knowledge based proactive services to the citizens. Songdo smart city is connected by a single communication network and individual services in administration, traffic, crime prevention, disaster prevention, environment, underground utilities etc. are interconnected. Also, by providing cutting-edge services and controlling through integrated systems, the IFEZ is realizing a smart city that makes it a candidate to be among leading ubiquitous cities of the world.

The key lessons from the successful deployment of Songdo Smart city is the paramount importance of implementing greenfield development based upon well thought out, citizen driven plan consisting of strategy, implementation timelines and construction procedures that are fully aligned with green growth strategy and sustainable development goals as announced by United Nations recently.

It is also important to understand the Indian context may be different and many plans may need to be altered based upon the experiences before actual services are deployed. Indian smart cities can benefit a lot for their greenfield development plans based upon the learning about the experiences of Songdo city development. The city administrators of Songdo had shown keen interest in working closely with Indian smart city practitioners during the discussions with the author.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house