What if you could design a city center with New York’s Central Park and with the canals of Venice or Amsterdam or San Antonio? Or with the high-end shopping of Fifth Avenue and the giant boulevards of Paris? And buildings on the water as iconic as the Sydney Opera House?
There also would be few cars to congest the streets—and the boulevards would be open to pedestrians—because the cars would be parked underground. And there would be no garbage trucks to wake you with racket only to clog the streets the rest of the day, because the waste disposal system would be handled pneumatically in an underground system of pipes.
This city would also be one of the greenest cities on the planet, about 40 percent green, and in fact, it already exists: It’s Songdo International Business District (IBD), South Korea, located about 20 miles from Seoul and about 20 miles from the border of North Korea as the crow flies—and also a 20-minute drive from Incheon International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.
Green properties “will be more than 50 percent of the total 100 million square feet of built space planned for Songdo IBD,” says Stanley C. Gale, the chairman and managing partner of Gale International. “This is a very high concentration—we have been told by U.S. Green Building Council [USGBC] that Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] principles have never before been applied to a single development at such a scale.”
“To give you a sense, Songdo’s LEED-certified space represents 40 percent of all the LEED space in Korea,” he says.
Songdo has a lot of competition: It’s not the only city being designed and built from scratch by planners and architects. There’s Lavasa, in Maharashtra, India, projected to be complete in 2021; Destiny in Osceola, Florida; Dongtan in Congming-Iland, China; Qatar’s Energy City; and India’s Gujarat International Finance Tec-City.
The history of the Songdo IBD is one that came about prior to the 1990s, when South Korea felt very vulnerable between two economic powerhouses: Japan and China, says Richard Nemeth, a principal with Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), the architecture firm that’s been involved in the creation of Songdo IBD almost since the beginning.
“Korea felt sandwiched between Japan and China, these two huge goliaths, and as their economy transformed from agriculture to manufacturing to technology and then into service, which is where most of the economy transformed, South Korea felt that they were going to get eclipsed by these massive economies on either side of them,” Nemeth says.
“So South Korea had the brilliant idea of setting up these free trade zones along with their coastal land, which they were reclaiming at a rapid pace, from the Yellow Sea near Incheon.”