The world’s first smart city with a $40 billion budget looks anything but smart. It lies abandoned now and has turned into a ghost town. Songdo on South Korea’s northeast coast was built from scratch and was designed around technology with computers built into streets and condos to control traffic.
The residents were promised a futuristic city where front doors would be controlled by remote controls and pneumatic rubbish chutes would suck in garbage directly from your homes to be recycled later on to make electricity. 15 years have passed since the Songdo project began and the city is less than half built and it feels like a deserted prison.
The $40 billion dollar project aimed to construct a new way of thinking for 300,000 residents but it has failed to bring in big companies and investors despite being home to South Korea’s tallest skyscraper. It was initially meant to be completed by 2015, then 2018, and now it is said that it will be completed by 2022.
The city is less than a quarter full with just 70,000 residents and has been remarked to have a “Chernobyl-like emptiness”. Songdo’s developers are not giving up hope and plan to construct “American Town” to bring about foreign interest.
The district will have US and UK-style education and will have three large towers and two smaller ones and will serve 900 apartments and 1,000 businesses over 4 million square feet. Koam, the Virginia-based real estate consulting firm in charge of the American Town project, toured US cities, especially those with large Korean populations, such as New York and Los Angeles, held meetings with locals and got over a thousand signed letters of intent to move.
Although CEO Augustine Kim said the primary target was “people who left Korea for the American dream over 40 years ago”, Songdo locals tell a different story. They say that the cost of living is so high that the local people are being forced to move back to Seoul.
Songdo citizen Shim Jong Rae described the town as: “There are many foreign schools, hospitals, and amenities, however, they’re all too expensive. Everything is expensive. Although they might develop the area well in the future, people are starting to leave the city. It’s too focused on attracting foreigners that they forget that normal people live here too. If they could just get their head around adjusting the cost of living here, Songdo could potentially be not only the best city in Korea, but the world. But development has stalled a lot.”
American Gale International owns 61% of the project and never doubted its success. But, people and businesses don’t share their beliefs and less than 50 big brands have bothered. Gale International admit that concentrating on quality of life meant “what has probably missed the mark is for companies to locate here”.
The large city has no culture, no museums, theatres or cinemas. The city is empty on the weekends except for a couple of tourists that come to visit South Korea’s tallest building.
Blogger Ian James, writing for Korea Expose, said it reminded him more of Chernobyl than the best example of future living. “The fact that 1,500 acres of Yellow Sea marshland, home to several endangered bird species, was devastated for this ‘green’ city is another matter. Songdo is a new kind of city: Completely artificial, painstakingly designed, without a hint of decay or poverty, and nearly empty. It’s a human desert. There is an oppressive, Chernobyl-like emptiness here. The shallowness is awesome, in both the modern and traditional sense of the word you can almost feel that these huge buildings are only years away from being completely abandoned.”
The developers still refuse to believe that and are still pushing forward for its development. The next couple of years will make the situation completely clear, whether it is going to thrive or will it be completely abandoned. We will have to wait and find out.