Seoul, Songdo, And Singapore: Smart Cities Of The East

artificial trees singapore

When I was 16 years old, I went to my first drive-through McDonald’s. I’m from London and we had about three Golden Arches we could drive through. When I was 22 years old, I went to the States. I saw my first drive-through bank and drive-through pharmacy counter. “What… drive-throughs are not just for McDonald’s? How futuristic are these people?”

Then I went to Seoul…

Smart City: Seoul, South Korea

Seoul makes the United States look prehistoric and drive-throughs hard work. In Seoul, for example, public places don’t have door handles. Too dirty. Too much hard work to twist your wrist. They don’t even have doors you can simply push open. Instead, Seoul has contactless buttons. You reach out to push the button but, before your finger lands there, the sensor has reacted and the door has opened.

Back To The Future

The capital city of South Korea is the world’s second largest metropolitan area by population. The city offers the OASIS—an Online Policy Suggestion System—that receives planning suggestions online from the public. It has more than 5 million contributions so far, putting the people firmly in the driver’s seat of their city.

As is the case with Medellín, Colombia, this isn’t technology being used to alienate. It’s technology being used to bring people together. Going beyond just receiving planning suggestions, Seoul uses its smart technology to improve everybody’s well-being, from traffic management to waste collection.

As half of the country lives in the capital, 600-year-old Seoul started to buckle under the weight of its new population. Moving around the city was the biggest problem so, in 1992, the Seoul Institute was established to find ways to create and maintain a higher quality of life.

In 2004, the institute teamed up with the mayor’s office and began to overhaul public transport. Today, Seoul’s nine-line subway is one of the best in the world. By 2030, all buses will be electric and completely emissions-free. The capital doesn’t overlook cars and only focus on the subway. Roads have been expanded and bridges built, but this is not the sole reason for Seoul’s traffic success.

There’s more…

The capital’s behind-the-scenes technology uses real-time information (RTI) to control buses, cars, and trains, and it does so with maximum efficiency.

RTI is delivered as soon as it is collected through sensors embedded in roads and GPS trackers in taxis, so traffic lights are timed in accordance to how heavy traffic is at that particular moment. RTI also means that traffic can be directed according to how many cars are in the area and signs can be updated quickly so people can avoid areas where an accident has happened.

RTI is even helping pedestrians…

“Smombies” are people who walk around glued to their smartphones as if they were zombies. Seoul has noticed a twofold increase in pedestrian accidents while car accidents have decreased. This is due to the smombie effect. To battle the problem, the capital enlisted the help of smart technology. Traffic lights have been installed in the ground so smombies don’t walk out into the road by accident. Not only do the lights distract them from their phones but they are linked to ground signals depending on traffic.

Seoul’s objective is that drivers and pedestrians use the city collectively, reaping the benefits of behind-the-scenes technology without even knowing it exists.

Other initiatives have included Internet of Things technology to prevent escalators from breaking down in Seoul’s metro system, a robot that uses AI and can guide you to your gate if you are lost at the international airport, and most public services are delivered online (the latter earning South Korea first place for three consecutive terms in the UN’s E-Government Survey).

Remember The Good Ol’ Days… No Garbage On The Streets 

Seoul uses technology to go back to a time when you didn’t have litter flowing down the sidewalks. The council has adopted Ecube Labs’ smart trash cans. Solar-powered and waste-compacting, these bins have ultrasonic-level sensors that message when the bins need to be changed. Street cleaners then rush to “hot spots” and empty the bins.

With waste analytics, the council can identify waste trends. The local council has stated, “Unlike the traditional way of collecting general waste and recycling materials, the new way of managing our bins using Ecube Labs’ monitoring system not only reduced our collection costs by 83% but also eliminated waste overflow as well.”

Home Away From Home 

There is one place on every real estate agent’s lips… Songdo.

Similar to some cities in China, Songdo is a purpose-built “smart city” adjacent to Seoul’s airport—a smart city within a smart city. Designed by New York architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, it looks up to the Big Apple, trying hard to be a clean-cut version of Manhattan.

Songdo is full of skyscrapers and even has its own Central Park. It’s due to have 2 million residents but currently has 70,000. Recently finished, it boasts 40% green space, universal broadband, integrated sensor networks, green buildings, and an innovative underground waste system, the latter a warren of tubes that transport kitchen waste from buildings directly to a processing facility that then converts the waste into clean energy.

Built on reclaimed land from the sea and adjacent to Seoul’s business district, Songdo is now going one step further. It is directly targeting U.S. citizens.

Planners are offering luxury apartments with futuristic technology to North Americans along with U.S.-style education and cleaner living as part of Songdo’s colossal “American Town.”

Three large towers up to 50-stories high and two smaller ones are under construction. American Town will serve over 1,000 businesses and cover over 386,000 square meters. With more than 3,600 apartments, it should account for a further 20% of Songdo’s current population.

The primary target is people who left Korea for the American dream over 40 years ago. There are reports that Songdo is too expensive for locals. It is, however, very affordable for North Americans—your buck goes a long way in South Korea and you get double the luxury thanks to its smart technology…

Digitally advanced apartments, computers built into homes and streets, smart-controlled traffic flow, and video chat facilities between neighbors… Everything can be done remotely, from opening the front door to attending college classes.

Although American Town is due to be finished in 2022, one American is already in town and taking advantage of the green spaces—golfer Jack Nicklaus. The clubhouse on the 18-hole championship course he designed for Songdo is one of the 106 certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings in the area, predominantly fueled by renewable energy.

Smart City-State: Singapore 

To safeguard the city’s sustainability in the face of Singapore’s expansion and aging population, authorities are taking a peep into the future.

Using a smart tool developed by Singapore’s National Research Foundation (NRF) in collaboration with French multinational software company Dassault Systèmes, Virtual Singapore is a 3D planning initiative that simulates present and future scenarios. Virtual Singapore was launched at the end of 2014 and cost US$73 million.

The 3D planning apparatus simulates scenarios using static data and RTI collected from smartphone networks, wearable devices, public transport networks, and other sources, which feed directly into the tool’s platform, giving a bird’s-eye view of what is happening and calculating what will happen. To create a more sustainable city, Virtual Singapore is being used to tackle the city’s main challenges—a lack of space, overly dense population, and aging residents.

Virtual Singapore is for businesses and citizens alike. The 3D tool can identify all roof surfaces in Singapore and calculate how much energy could be generated by installing solar panels.

For private citizens, it has done tests with school kids to see which route from home to school is safest and quickest on any day. The tool can indicate the most efficient evacuation route in an emergency. It can even be used to track the movements of elderly family members who wear a monitoring device.

Water… One Of Life’s Essentials

Singapore is famous for having little corruption. This has helped the city successfully fight its biggest urban, political, and economic challenge—a dependence on imported potable water from Malaysia.

Beholden to Malaysia, Singapore’s entire water cycle is now managed by the Public Utilities Board (PUB), the national water agency. And guess what… it works like a dream, both nationally and internationally…

Singapore now has more than 100 companies generating US$370 million in annual revenue from selling their rainwater collection and water-recycling technologies around the globe. Since 2006, Singapore’s water-technology sector has generated more than US$7 billion in international projects. In other words, Singapore recognized its problem, changed its policies to open up a path to a solution, created the solution, employed the solution, and then went one step further… exported the solution. A local social need was merged with an international business opportunity… smart!

Samantha Russell