Smart Cities Creep Up on the Future
Smart cities, like Songdo are being built wholesale by Gale International and Cisco, while IBM helps retrofit existing megacities to enter the future.
CREDIT: New Songdo City
When Stan Gale, Chairman, Gale International, first visited the designated site of a planned smart city at Incheon, South Korea, there was nothing but water. Now, ten years later he stays at the Sheraton Incheon Hotel and can bike or walk to his office. From there he can witness the rise of New Songdo City, which currently has 25,000 workers and 16,000 full-time residents.
New Songdo hosts a growing array of embedded smart systems that promise to connect residents to any service they might desire. Residents can already talk with doctors by using their two-way telepresence screens inside their apartments, or hold parent-teacher conferences without physically going to the Chadwick International School. Such efforts points to a smart city future where everything and everyone feels much more connected to the pulse of urban life.
But the vision gets grander. Gale International and partners such as Cisco hope to use New Songdo as a template for many more such smart cities from scratch. China in particular has an urgent need for new smart cities built wholesale from the ground up to supplement the explosive growth in its existing cities.
"We have found significant demand for city-scale development in China because of the geopolitical realities of the current Chinese situation, as well as the economic boom that the country is going through right now," Gale told InnovationNewsDaily. "There is the desire and need to have smart, sustainable communities built."
There are pitfalls to such an approach. A 2010 report by the Institute for the Future a spinoff of the RAND Corporation warned that the wholesale "smart city in a box" solutions may not work everywhere. It also argued that technology companies, governments and citizens need to talk about their collective vision for future cities.
"Without this catalyst for cooperation, we may repeat the devastating urban conflicts of the 20th century that pitted central planners like Robert Moses against community activists like Jane Jacobs," the report stated.
Similar sentiments came from Mark Cleverley, director of strategy for smarter cities at IBM. Despite emphasizing how IBM could "show the world the art of the possible" with smart city projects, he cautioned against being too "cookie-cutter" in building cities. But he added that IBM was not ruling out wholesale smart cities, and might even get involved if the right one came along.
Still, Gale International has not charged blindly into the smart city future. Gale and its partners want to leverage the smart systems to open up more dialogue between its citizens and local government.
"It's really about what the citizens choose to do," Gale explained. "We're going to put the technology in and they determine how to use it."
If done correctly, smart cities promise to empower everyone. Citizens can monitor their home utility usage with smart meters, get expert advice on banking and healthcare in their living rooms, or check on what their elected officials are doing without hanging around City Hall. Cities can get a better sense of the needs and demands of citizens to better deploy police and firefighters, not to mention more efficiently deliver services such as water and electricity.
Unsurprisingly, building a smart city from the ground up is expensive about $12 billion has already been invested into building up New Songdo. But the process has allowed Gale International to fine-tune the art of designing and engineering such cities, and to build a coalition of partners such as Cisco and Posco E&C. And whereas New Songdo took a decade just to get to this point, Gale seems confident that future smart cities can go up much faster.
"We believe we can compress decades-long development to 5-7 years," Gale said. "That's how fast these cities need to go up in other parts of the world."
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