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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

New age cities pave the way

The digital age and pressing environmental issues are shaping the way we will be living

Next year, two Asian cities situated miles apart from each other will showcase to the rest of the world their new epicentres for the 21st century. One will be along the Incheon waterfront in South Korea; the other in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

^The Songdo development has taken the digital route with its high-tech backbone

Masdar City sees the future as requiring green and clean living

In the former, 2,000 residents will soon be moving into homes currently being built on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land overlooking the Yellow Sea.

They won’t be “ordinary” homes – not at their price of US$500,000 (RM1.62 million). Instead, they will be “smart” and wired to facilities such as a medical station that can measure the vital health signs of the residents. And if residents so desire, their blood pressures and pulse rates can be transmitted securely to the Seoul National University Hospital, where doctors can provide personalised recommendations for daily exercise and diet.

That’s not all: Residents will also be able to receive traffic reports via their computers on what alternative roads to take should there be congestion in the city.

Digital city
Parents in this South Korean community can also monitor their children’s whereabouts via a mobile device, while teachers will be able to know if a student has completed an assignment via smart-card readers.

When the US$30 billion (RM96 billion) Songdo International Business District (Songdo IBD) ultimately becomes home to 65,000 residents (as well as another 300,000 made up of daily commuters, business people and visitors), it will be among the world’s most environmentally sustainable and technologically advanced cities.

Songdo IBD, South Korea

Its developer, New Songdo International City Development, LLC (NSIC) – a joint venture formed by Korean-based Posco E&C and United States-based Gale International – envisions Songdo to be the ideal 21st century city.

Master-planned as a “U” city (which is the abbreviation for “ubiquitous”, the local term for a digital city), it will boast the most advanced digital infrastructure imaginable, from blanket wireless Internet coverage and automated recycling to universal smart cards that can pay bills, access medical records and open doors.

The U-lifestyle
The city, designated a Free Economic Zone, will consist of some 50 million square feet of commercial space, 35 million square feet of residential accommodation, 15 million square feet of retail lots as well as hotels and schools.

To give room to breathe, 40 per cent of its space will be open, within which will be a 100-acre Central Park.

In Songdo’s business district, its architectural centrepiece will be the 65-storey, 1.3 million square feet Northeast Asia Trade Tower (NEATT) that will be annexed to a 400,000sq ft Convention Centre and 1.25 million square feet Retail Mall.

All the offices and residential units in the development will incorporate computers that will collect data from swipe cards and sensors and channel them to its “U-life” management centre, a facility to be operated by Songdo U-Life LLC, a joint venture between Gale International and LG Electronics’ subsidiary LGCNS – the creator of the city’s digital backbone.

Despite all the intelligence, NSIC is counting on success to come from Songdo’s location 20 minutes drive from Seoul’s international airport at Incheon.

Currently ranked number one in Asia and the world, this gateway to South Korea and indeed, Northeast Asia, is just a three-hour flight time from 60 of Asia’s largest cities and in a region holding 35 per cent of the world’s population with a combined gross domestic product worth an estimated US$1.3 trillion (RM4.2 trillion).

Carbon-neutral city
With Songdo aiming to be Northeast Asia’s financial and economic hub and Singapore and Hong Kong already anchoring Southeast Asia, it seems only obvious that either Dubai or Abu Dhabi in the Middle East be the hub for Northwest Asia.

Come 2009, Abu Dhabi, the world’s fourth largest oil exporter, will have a new “Green Community” development covering six square kilometres called Masdar City.

The brainchild of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed Zayed Al Nahyan, it is part of the US$15 billion (RM48 billion) “Masdar Initiative” programme that seeks to position the capital as the global leader in clean energy and sustainable development.

Masdar City, which will be slightly larger than Songdo, has been master-planned by British architectural firm Foster & Partners to initially accommodate 50,000 people though the eventual population will be double.

In keeping with its green theme, it will be a carbonneutral city leveraging on the most modern innovations in energy efficiency, sustainable practices, resource recycling, biodiversity, transportation and green building standards.

Entirely self-sustaining
Even before it is completed, Masdar City will be a green development with a large photovoltaic power plant powering its construction. Later in its life, the land surrounding it will be used as wind and photovoltaic farms, research fields and plantations to ensure self-sustainability.

To encourage walking, it will also be car free and have a compact network of shaded pedestrian-friendly streets, where the maximum distance to the nearest transport link and amenities will be only 200m.

Living examples
Within the walled city will be a Special Free Zone (SFZ), an economic area with a minimum carbon footprint where 1,500 companies will enjoy special incentives such as onestop access to government services, full foreign ownership, no taxes and intellectual property protection.

Supporting the SFZ will be facilities and services such as the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Research Network, light industries, laboratories and selected international tenants.

Both South Korea’s Songdo and Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City are two innovative initiatives responding to today’s most pressing issues: Energy crisis, environmental threats and the sustainability of developments.

Both carry the mission of being living examples of the urban conurbations of the future and the hope that one day, all cities in the world will be built like them.

By New Straits Times (by Lim Lay Ying)

Lim Lay Ying is managing director of Research Inc. (Asia), a company specialising in market research and consultancy for all facets of real estate development.

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