Songdo

Songdo, or Songdo International Business District, was a city I had planned to visit for a long time, but somehow never got around to it. However, as fate would have it, I was able to spend some time in it, even if the circumstances were less than ideal. But more on that later.

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Songdo is a very interesting project and has been given such lofty titles as ‘City of the future’ or ‘the world’s smallest city’. It is an incredibly ambitious project located near Incheon. About twenty years ago, none of it existed, not even the land the city stands on. Back then, the area was still part of the Yellow Sea. Not only was the land reclaimed, but it is now home to a futuristic city full of skyscrapers. It’s still a work in progress in many ways, and construction is still ongoing.

Songdo comes with a lot of lofty promises. The idea was to build a smart, sustainable, and green city from scratch. Since cities normally grow organically over hundreds of years, this is a pretty radical approach that offers both countless chances and risks. Songdo tries to make full use of innovative technology, e.g. in its garbage disposal system.

However, Songdo’s future is still very much an open question. It was a huge gamble, financed in large parts by private backers, and it is still unclear if the city will attract a sufficient amount of people to it. As of today, it is still eerily empty. I visited there on a weekday afternoon, and it almost felt like a ghost town. Certainly a nice change of pace from Seoul, and it made for a nice and relaxing trip, but it was a bit eery. Many of the buildings appeared closed, and I wasn’t quite sure what there was to do, so I mostly just hung around the (very pretty) Central Park. They even have their own versions of Manneken Pis!

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I was (and continue to be) endlessly fascinated by Songdo. It’s a stark contrast to Seoul – a city without a history, created out of nowhere. Here are two interesting articles if you want to know more:

The Atlantic: City of the Future?

LA TImes: Skyscrapers? Check. Parks? Check. People? Still needed.

Reading up on it, I guess there are some reasons to remain cautiously pessimistic about Songdo’s current development, but I don’t consider myself enough of an expert to make any such proclamations. Maybe it will be a huge success and turn into a booming model city, who knows. It might become the model smart city, but it seems like it’s not quite there yet.

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Until then though, Songdo remains pretty empty, especially for Korean standards. But that has its advantages, too. Remember Gangnam Style and the accompanying music video? Then you’ve already caught a glimpse of Songdo. I guess it’s much easier to film a music video in empty Songdo as opposed to crowded Gangnam.

 

On a final note: I was not supposed to be here. I was gonna leave Korea without having seen Songdo, but then I managed to miss my flight (don’t ask), and had to kill about 18 hours to catch my replacement flight, so this seemed like an ideal way to end the trip. If only the empty skyscrapers of Songdo kept mocking me…

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Trust me, I’m trying. But things don’t always work out.

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