songdo smart city about cities topThe city of tomorrow thinks along with you. The city of the future is networked, tuned in to the environment, livable. Due to population growth and an exodus from the countryside, there is no getting around this future vision. Last but not least, smart cities are also very interesting from an economic point of view. The market for urban development is estimated at 400 billion euros worldwide.

Today, about half of the population of the industrialized world lives in cities. And every week about another million people join them there. If this trend continues – and nothing indicates that it will not – there will be more than six billion people living in cities by 2050. Thus, a millennia-old process is almost complete: urbanization, fueled by a massive rural exodus plus rapid economic development in major emerging economies, notably in India and China.

Cities are expected to host about seventy percent of the population. Yet, they only occupy about two percent of the Earth’s surface, making for an enormous challenge when it comes to infrastructure, energy supply, and providing for their inhabitants. But already today, there are examples worldwide of how the Smart City project can succeed in the future.

“Cities are expected to host about seventy percent of the population, yet they only occupy about two percent of the Earth’s surface.”

Total networking: Songdo City, South Korea

In South Korea’s Incheon Free Trade Zone, the future has already begun. Experts, architects, and investors worldwide have built a model city here: Songdo City, newly built on six square kilometers of land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea. The city itself is a kind of “best-of” metropolis. The tallest building, the North East Asia Trade Tower is strongly reminiscent of the Freedom Tower of the new World Trade Center in New York; its Convention Center recalls the Sydney Opera House, and its green lung is called “Central Park.” Parks and gardens comprise forty percent of the city’s area.

Songdo has implemented an important prerequisite for true smart cities: full support for the Internet of Things – in other words, the networking of all devices, facilitating the ongoing exchange of data between them. In Songdo, apartments, public facilities, industrial buildings – indeed every aspect of public life – are all integrated into a common network, meaning that the residents permanently provide data for collection. For the 70,000 people who will eventually live here, it is an entire network.

Virtually every aspect of public life can be dealt with using a single keycard, which is a door key, public transport ticket, and payment device, all in one. The city uses the data generated to optimize energy usage, educate the inhabitants, and make them aware of how resources are being used. For example, in the apartments, monitors are installed which praise – or admonish – the persons living there, depending on whether they are reaching ambitious energy-saving goals or not. Songdo’s objective is to become thirty percent more efficient than any other city.

Smart: the model for next-generation cities

By partnering with multinational technology companies, local service providers, and government organizations, Songdo serves as a proving ground for next-generation “smart” city solutions.


In addition to the widespread implementation of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED™ standard, 40% of the city has been set aside as green public space. Songdo offers residents, visitors, and businesses an idyllic and sustainable place to live, work, and play.


A look at Songdo IBD to date:

  • Over 20,000 residential units are occupied or under construction.
  • Thirty-six thousand residents currently live in Songdo IBD (90,000 in Songdo City).
  • Over 1,000 retail and hospitality businesses are open and operating.
  • Over 1,600 domestic and global companies are currently located in Songdo City, with 60,000 employees.
  • The Daily Conversation made a nice video on the development of Songdo.

Smart City As A Service (SCaaS): South Koreas new export product

South Korea is ambitious about exporting its advanced smart city technology and experience. Another model city is the city of Bundang. Bundang is one of South Korea’s wealthiest and highest developed areas, being the nation’s first and largest completely artificial city built in the early 1990s. Many high-rise luxury condos moved in the early 2000s, with a second planned city built in the late 2000s called Pangyo in the same district.

Secondly, we already reported that South Korea was exporting its smart city project into Kuwait. In Kuwait, LH will build a four billion dollar project. The city’s name will be South Saad Al-Abdullah and will provide accommodations for between 25,000 — 40,000 families. The new city will be 15,913 acres in size. Construction will start in 2019.

You may also want to take a look at this video about the future of cities in general.


Songdo international city is part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) and Yeongjong and Cheongna, located southwest of Incheon Metropolitan City.

The city was built on reclaimed land based on the Basic Plan of Public Waters Reclamation for the Songdo area established in 1979. The Governmental Office of Songdo International City was opened in November 2003 following the newly introduced law on IFEZ. KRW 45,269 billion has been invested in three districts under the IFEZ, Songdo, Yeongjong, and Cheongna (total area of 132.92km2) to build infrastructure for the new city.

The function of each district is as follows. Songdo is in charge of international business relating to IT, BT, and R&D, Yeongjong focuses on aviation logistics, tourism, leisure, and Cheongna concentrates on international finance, high-tech industry, and distribution. Geographically, the IFEZ is located where 61 foreign cities with over 1 million people can be reached within 3.5 hours of flying distance. Thus, doing one-day business based on 2.5 billion people possible. In terms of good infrastructure, the area consists of Incheon International Airport, which functions as the Northeast Asia hub airport. Incheon airport has been globally ranked number 1 for ten consecutive years for airport services and ranked number 2 for international cargo transportation. Also, Incheon Harbor, which consists of cutting-edge harbor infrastructures, is located at a 20-minute car distance from the IFEZ. On top of this impressive connectivity, the area lies only an hour away from Korea’s metropolitan area (Seoul).

Songdo is still under development with plans to invest KRW 21,544 billion over 53.4km2 area until 2022 to contain 101,780 households and 259,669 people.

Smart City Overview

As part of the nation’s project to build a cutting-edge green city as a new growth power, Songdo is being developed into a ubiquitous city. This plays a pivotal role in the IFEZ’s vision and realization strategy. The project began with the philosophy to build and provide citizens with a living environment that is convenient, pleasant, and healthy. Songdo international city’s smart city project is carried out according to strict and thorough plans.

In 2008, the validity of the project was examined, and a ubiquitous service platform (USP) was established, and in 2009 the working design was completed. This 5-step Intelligent Transport System (ITS) pilot project was implemented between 2009 and 2014. In 2012, Incheon U-City Corporation, a private and public joint corporation, was established to take care of the IFEZ’s U-City business exclusively. The corporation was established by CENTIOS, a joint corporation of Incheon city, KT, and CISCO. Then in 2014, MOLIT’s (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport) pilot project was carried out. With the implementation of a pilot project, the integrated operations center of Songdo city was established in 2014, and it has been operating in real-time until the present day.

Songdo plans to invest KRW 164.7 billion and establish U-City at zone1~zone4 by the end of 2016. Yeongjong is currently running a U-City project at Yeongjong Sky City and Midan City, whereas Cheongna has already completed establishing in 2014 and is currently in operation.

Once, U-City infrastructure is completed at Songdo’s zone1~zone4, the three districts (Songdo, Yeongjong, Cheongna) are planned to be connected and managed as one. The IFEZ plans to spread private-public joint service models and expand exports.

Vision, current and future projects

The IFEZ has set its goal to be ranked number one in the global city competitiveness by 2020. Through this, the IFEZ’s vision is to realize a leading global U-City. To achieve this goal, the IFEZ has set 5 core strategies:

  • establishing and operating a public IFEZ U-City
  • developing cooperation model with private sector services;
  • strengthening the foundation of public-private cooperation;
  • expanding overseas export of IFEZ U-City;
  • building high-tech clusters and inviting international events.

To establish and operate a public IFEZ UTCity, U-infrastructures are being constructed on-site and connected to the U-City operation center through communication networks. In the future, the U-infrastructures of Yeongjong and Cheongna will be connected with Songdo’s to establish an integrated operating system.

U-City services are enhanced by developing cooperation models with private sector services. Also, specialized services of public-private corporations are being distributed. The goal is to acquire U-City’s investment and operation costs by collaborating with global corporations when developing public-private cooperation models and establishing an IFEZ U-City that can sustain its development and attract foreign capital. To achieve this, a public-private U-City corporation was established for the first time in 2012 to utilize privately owned technologies and resources.

Global U-City R&D center and private cooperative corporations strengthen public-private cooperation and activate private investments. The Global Center of Excellence, the U-City R&D center of CISCO, is built at Songdo to develop new technology to lead the overseas smart city market in the long term.

Past development experiences are made into models, and networks between countries are reinforced to expand IFEZ U- City overseas export. The smart city projects of developing countries such as China, the Philippines, and the Middle East are carried out as national projects. The IFEZ is working to attract exports and invite companies into the area.

The city attempts in holding various international events and making mid-long term master plans to create cutting-edge clusters and international events.

The Songdo Knowledge and Information Industrial Complex contains world-class RFID/USN facilities and provides high-quality services based on sharing. The city forms the basis for establishing a cluster network of the RFID/USN industry, including inviting core corporations, accumulating support facilities, etc.

The U-City International Conference that has been held since 2008 provides the future direction of future cities, city regeneration models and shares the vision of a happy future technology city. By hosting international meetings related to U-IT and carrying out Songdo tours, the IFEZ is appraised to establish its status as a ‘Global Leading U-City.’

The city has also been hosting the Incheon Digital Art Festival every year since September 2009. This event is planned to be developed into a worldwide culture content business that integrates cutting-edge technology and cultural and artistic factors applied to the U-City model.

Smart City related services

Songdo U-City can be divided into public services and private services. Public service sectors are designed to provide 24 services in 6 categories including traffic, crime prevention, facility management, disaster prevention, environment, and providing information to citizens. Private service sectors provide services relating to home, store, learning, money, health, and car.

Environmentally-friendly services are to be provided as specialized services by utilizing U-IT such as RFID/USN. The services include U-Bike, U-Street, U-Foreigner Support Mobile Service, etc. Songdo U-City collects 24-hours real-time data from on-site equipment such as CCTV, various sensor devices, traffic detectors. Systems in Songdo are being built so that the collected data is stored in the database through the integrated platform and analyzed by application services and big data analysis to provide citizens with useful services.

Transportation and Urban mobility

U-IT technology based on wire-wireless communication infrastructure is applied to existing traffic components such as roads, traffic facilities, vehicles to enhance the efficiency of traffic infrastructure and users’ safety and convenience.

To maximize the convenience of using public buses, bus arrival information is provided at bus stops and subway information of nearby stations. The information is not only provided in Korean but also in various languages for foreigners to use.

The CCTVs installed at bus stops monitor in real-time possible facility problems that may arise and check for unexpected situations that may arise nearby. If a citizen presses the alarm bell in such an emergency, it is immediately connected to the center’s operator.

During the nighttime, automatic power-saving functions operate by using movement detection sensors that turn on the system when someone approaches and turn off when no one is there.

Illegal parking control

In illegally parked vehicles, the driver is informed through announcements or SNS and guided to other public parking spaces. If the driver refuses to follow directions, then illegal parking control is enforced. During the night time surveillance cameras used for controlling illegal parking area used as crime prevention CCTVs to monitor

Cutting edge traffic signal control system

The upgraded version of the COSMOS (Cycle Offset Split Model of Seoul) system is applied to the Songdo traffic signal control system. During the peak hours, Time Based Control (TBC) is implemented to operate all signal indications as periodic signals. During non-peak hours, Traffic Response Control (TRC) is implemented where detectors at left-turn lanes detect the flow of traffic and flexibly manages signal indications by sometimes skipping left turns when there are no cars that need to turn also left, if urgent situations where fire trucks or 119 emergency vehicles need to pass through occurring during non-peak hours, operator intervention control is implemented by using detectors at left-turn lanes to allow the continuous traffic flow of emergency vehicles.

Safety and Citizen’s security

To provide citizens with a safer living environment, the IFEZ collects and integrates all footage from crime prevention, disaster prevention, environment, and traffic surveillance cameras of Songdo, Yeongjong, and Cheongna and monitors them all together at one spot.

Vehicle monitoring and crime prevention

Cameras loaded with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) are installed at Songdo International City’s major intersections. These cameras collect license plate number information of passing vehicles in real-time. The collected data is sorted to find wanted vehicles or vehicles of delinquent taxpayers. The information is then sent to police stations, tax offices, or related organizations for swift responses.

Active crime prevention monitoring

Through the image recognition function, cameras can actively monitor and detect whether the detected object(s) is in a fight, has collapsed, is wandering, or is trespassing, etc. If abnormal activity is detected, it is immediately alarmed to the operator, and the CCTVs near the area function together to form a net to monitor such abnormal behavior. The location and situation are sent to police stations, 119 for immediate actions.

Abnormal sound monitoring

Suppose a citizen shouts or screams in an urgent situation. In that case, sound sensors detect this, and CCTVs nearby automatically turn their angle to show center operators images of the situation on hand. The center operator checks the situation through video footage and spreads the emergency’s location and content to related organizations for swift action.

Emergency and response

Songdo collects information in real-time on disasters by connecting and integrating with external agencies such as Incheon Fire Department, National Emergency Management, and Incheon LNG production base. Information is also collected from the emergency rooms of public & private buildings and Songdo U-City’s U-Crime Prevention system. Information on natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunami, typhoons, etc. is collected from the Incheon Fire Department and National Emergency Management. Information collected from the Incheon LNG production base consists of information on emergencies within the base, explosions, or fires. The U-Disaster Prevention service system collects real-time information on the level of floods, subsidence, etc.

The center gathers all the information to monitor for disaster situations. At times of emergencies, the situation is broadcasted to citizens through VMSs installed on-site or through web and mobile applications. At places such as parks, plazas, or waterside areas, evacuation announcements are made through crime prevention speakers.


Environment detecting sensors are installed at Songdo’s parks, shopping areas, schools, and housing areas to measure weather and atmosphere conditions. Weather sensors measure wind direction, wind velocity, temperature & humidity. Simultaneously, environment sensors measure the level of fine dust, carbon monoxide, nitrogenous compound, sulfur oxides, and ozone amounts. Road surface detecting sensors & weather sensors are installed at main roads and Songdo bridges 1~3 to collect information on road environments related to traffic safety such as frozen surfaces, fogs, etc. The information collected from these sensors is then reorganized as spatial-temporal information and combined with the analysis results of big data from the past to produce predictive information passed onto citizens through various information delivery channels.

Energy saving

IoT sensors are installed at houses and buildings to provide real-time information to users, how much energy has been consumed, and what measures can be taken to minimize utility bills through mobile applications. Using smart applications, users can manually turn off electric devices just by touching their smartphones and control the temperature and lighting of their houses before they return home.

Citizen integration and communication management

Through mobile devices, citizens are provided with information regarding public administration, civil affairs processes to increase operations’ efficiency and enhance citizen satisfaction.

Citizen communication services such as mobile civil affairs administration service, customized administration service for citizens, on-site administration service, etc., are provided to citizens. The system is currently being expanded.

Integrated facility management

On-site facilities installed at Songdo International City have various sensors attached to them. If something goes wrong with these facilities, the center can detect conditions from afar.

If an irregularity is confirmed, the center and ward officials work together to send the maintenance workforce on-site to solve the problem. The information is recorded at the facility’s history management system. Also, the situation is informed to citizens while facilities are being repaired, not to cause any inconvenience.


The U-city project of Songdo that followed the construction of Incheon International Airport was planned and developed as a smart city from the first step. Songdo wishes to promote its symbolic reputation as a global business city, and currently, it is towards the end stage of smart city construction (began in 2008, aims for completion by 2017). The city will continue to become an iconic smart international city by establishing unique smart services such as RFID/USN, U-bike, U-street, and smart CCTV.

Special attention should be drawn to the establishment of Incheon U-city Corporation. Incheon U-city Corporation holds a private-public partnership (PPP) formation, where the city of Incheon holds 28.6% of the share, and private firms hold the rest. The ultimate purpose of such PPP was to create stable and efficient smart city construction, securing funding for system operation and management, forming an effective business model, and maximizing benefits for citizens. Incheon U-city Corporation is currently handling general system construction, maintenance business, and an international consulting business for countries that wish to create smart cities. It is important to emphasize that the success factor of Songdo had perhaps been this attempt to maximize public-private partnership. For sustainable development of the smart city projects, not only are public initiatives important but they should also be developed along with private companies and their business ideas, engaging with other parts of society.

A summary Analysis of Songdo’s Progress as a Smart City

“It feels like I’m looking into the future”, was just one of the comments I overheard as we stared from the top of the G-Tower’s observatory, out into Songdo’s skyline. While we were not literally in the future, Songdo’s impressive city design had the impact to leave you speechless. Once a mudflat on the edge of the Yellow Sea, Songdo developed rapidly and turned its foundation of reclaimed land into a smart city, giving it the reputation as being the “Smartest City in the World”. The idea behind a smart city is that it can use real-time data to improve the livability and sustainability of the city. Songdo certainly delivers in that facet. Located within the Central Business District is the G-Tower, the control center for the city. Using an extensive network of CCTV cameras, the G-Tower has the ability to monitor the cities’ traffic system, gauge building temperatures, dispatch emergency responses based on the situation, and much more. We were all amazed as the curtains rose and revealed the war room that was the Smart City Briefing Room.

As impressive as the briefing room and the components of the smart city were, it was not Songdo’s claim to fame. Instead, the employees of the G-Tower boasted about Songdo’s existence as a part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ), a futuristic and self-sustaining global business frontier that is occupied by Yeongjong, Cheongna, and Songdo. Three elements that contribute to the success of IFEZ are its role as a global center, a hub for leisure and culture, and home to many universities. Our tour of the city strategically covered each of these areas so we could understand the development of the IFEZ. By setting the stage for an abundance of global interactions that encourage innovation and creativity, IFEZ hopes to help South Korea emerge as a world leader.

Songdo’s spatial geography and infrastructure allow it to be the strong global center that the IFEZ desires. Songdo is in close proximity to Incheon International Airport as well as a future port that is predicted to be the 2ndlargest in Korea. These facilities connect Songdo to over 140 different cities across the world. The G-Tower is also positive to Songdo’s increased global presence. The tower itself is able to host various United Nations functions and the technology supported by the G-Tower is able to give international corporations a platform to conduct their business. But Songdo is not only focused on technology. Just steps from the G-Tower is the Central Park (named after New York City’s Central Park), a large public space intended to provide leisure to those living in Songdo.

The feeling I got when walking around the park was great. It was tranquil, relaxing and the cool weather (comparable to San Francisco) made Songdo even more enticing as an outsider. At the same time, everyone in the group, including myself, was all wondering the same thing. Where exactly was everyone? Sure, it was a workday, but the park itself was desolate. What was keeping the city from drawing in larger crowds of residents? It is still difficult to tell, but it was evident that Songdo faces many challenges that span since the start of its establishment. Many projects have been delayed or turned away, and many buildings and apartments go largely unused. It was quickly becoming evident that Songdo was not the utopian society that we originally perceived it as.

With its declining population, South Korea must decide how existing spaces can be filled and utilized to maximize productivity. With a new city like Songdo, it is pertinent for them to navigate a clear path for citizens to take advantage of job opportunities and maintain a high quality of life when moving there. In a visit to Incheon National University (INU), Hwan Yong Kim, a professor in the College of Urban Sciences, discussed the issue of continuing to develop new cities and residential areas around the country and around Seoul. As the second generation of cities has shown, city growth is slower than it used to be, and businesses are taking more time to put their roots in a given area.

Another problem lies with smart cities’ data itself. Currently, Songdo does not sell the data it collects, but there has been a desire to by G-Tower employees, which would be an issue to their citizens. No one wants to feel as if their every move is being monetized, but the monetization of data is how the company will be profitable. There needs to be a way to handle these problems or else Songdo’s smart city will be considered wasted potential.

Perhaps the most pressing concern as an emerging global center lies not only for Songdo but for South Korea as a whole and that is air pollution. With rising levels of air pollution coming in part from China, but can also be traced back to some of South Korea’s own manufacturing and energy practices, human health and safety are of the utmost importance on South Korea’s radar. With the country facing unprecedented levels of PM 2.5 particles, Songdo’s potential as a global center is at stake, and authorities must determine how they will navigate its future. If this situation cannot be addressed effectively, it will hurt South Korea’s ability to draw international parties into the city of Songdo as a safe place for business and commerce.

Despite the various challenges seen with Songdo and their smart cities, there certainly is room for optimism because of their university hubs. We had the pleasure of visiting some of Songdo’s top schools including Incheon National University and the University of Utah Asia Campus. According to Dr. Kim of INU, there are a couple of solutions that can be utilized to improve the state of Songdo’s smart city. These solutions include pushing for the 4th Industrial Revolution, utilization of big data, and even the usage of virtual reality to simulate the changes made to the city. The role that the universities play is that they offer fields of study that look to tackle these solutions. INU’s urban planning sector is composed of 4 divisions that include civil engineering and urban policy and administration. The University of Utah offers an urban ecology major, a study of how living organisms interact with the urban environment. Ultimately, the university hubs, a key feature of the IFEZ, might be the key to success for Songdo’s smart city. A city that is imperfect yet has the potential to change the standards of what a city should be around the world.


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A very nice and complex study about the Songdo place you can find HERE:

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Joseph Karma
About Joseph Karma

I am Joseph. I take care of transportation, infrastructure, and urban logistics in the cities and countries, including busses, taxis, cars, ships, plains, and their self-driving and alternate power systems.