Among the cities that have popped up in the last 15 years, Songdo is the first to be taking the concept of the smart city to the next level: the entirety of its infrastructures is designed to improve the comfort and safety of its residents, all the while limiting their ecological impact through ongoing data analyses.
Built close to the Seoul Airport, Songdo will probably never experience the unforgettable traffic jams that paralyse the South Korean capital every day. In the streets of this new city that’s about 50 kilometres from Seoul, thousands of sensors analyse traffic to detect and prevent any risk of jams by updating drivers’ navigation systems in real time.
Songdo is a city built from scratch by a group of private investors. What’s their goal? To test, in real-life, the infrastructures that will help build tomorrow’s smart cities thanks to the ongoing analysis of all data related to human activities.
The Songdo central computer then exploits this information to optimise various public services: water or electricity services, public transport, municipal administration, etc.
Designers define Songdo as a ‘ubiquitous’ city, i.e. a unique body whose interconnected systems mirror those of a true living organism.
For example, there are no longer any dump trucks in Songdo: all buildings are directly connected via a vacuum system to a recycling plant that’s hidden in the basement. The heat produced by the latter is recovered and redistributed in order to heat offices and homes. Everywhere, consumption is tracked as closely as possible to maintain a neutral city-wide carbon footprint.
There are also virtually no above-ground parking spaces: all car parks are underground to maximise space for urban development, pedestrians and greenery.
Back on the road: thanks to the countless security cameras that monitor the city, the central system is able to automatically send out alerts when an accident occurs. It is also capable of redirecting vehicles that would have otherwise taken the accident-ridden path by interacting with their on-board navigation systems. The central system can also identify victims thanks to licence plate recognition: without delay, emergency medical services can access medical files and improve care.
While the Smart City model raises legitimate questions such as privacy limits, it also illustrates how smart grid construction will allow us to streamline traffic and optimise resource consumption in the near future. And as Songdo continues to grow, its designers are thinking about exporting their concept to neighbouring countries like China or India. They are hopeful that the model will gain interest amongst all municipalities that are facing the social and environmental issues of rampant urbanisation.