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New Songdo City

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

'New city' has been the moniker of real-estate speculation in Korea for a long time. It certainly was so in the case of the cities of Bundang, Ilsan and Pangyo. Unlike old cities, these newly established cities were well planned before the construction of their apartments and other facilities. Therefore, these new cities have more green spaces and people-friendly facilities such as parks, bike roads, and most of all relatively young and passionate public schools. These are appealing factors for young parents who want their children to have a high-quality education. As you would expect, the influx of young parents' has made the price of housing in these new towns skyrocket. Word has been spreading of people who bought the apartments in these new cities, despite troublesome transportation, and have made a fortune through the soaring property prices.

New Songdo City has changed the conventional concept of 'new city' in Korea. It will certainly not be free from real-estate speculation, since people tend to buy apartments in new cities. An average apartment, about 100 square meters, costs roughly US$500,000 as of June 2009, with some going for two or three times these prices.

However, this planned business center city has definite outstanding factors when compared to previous 'new cities.' New Songdo City is to be developed on 1,500 acres of Incheon, 65 km west of Seoul, and will be connected to the Incheon International Airport by the Incheon Bridge. This city will also be a part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone. Songdo will include a convention center, international school, museum, Jack Nicklaus-designed Golf Course and an ecotarium, in addition to the conventional infrastructure such as hospitals, apartments and office buildings. English is planned to be the second language in this city, an appealing prospect for education-craving Korean parents. It is not surprising that international high schools and foreign universities have gotten numerous inquiries from Korean parents, although those schools have as yet been opened and the fees start at $25,000 a year.

Also, this new city is the largest private development project in the world; a 10-year development project estimated to cost in excess of $40 billion. When completed in 2015, this new city is to be a free economic zone with 80,000 apartments, 50 million square feet of office space and the 65-storey Northeast Asia Trade Tower.

Songdo City has good prospects toward becoming a world-class city. It will be a global business hub, brand new design city, 'aerotropolis' and, above all, a 'green' sustainable city. Songdo City's residents will enjoy clean air and a superior quality of life with the construction of a 100-acre park. The city's developer, Gale International, and Posco Engineering & Construction have set the bar very high, planning for it to become one of the world's greenest cities.

The public transportation system, which runs through the center of Songdo City, not only offers a convenient means of getting around the city, but also incorporates zero emission vehicles that feature hydrogen fuel cells. These public will likely be the first hydrogen fuel cell-powered municipal bus fleet in Asia.

Incheon Subway line will run through the city, which will also help to reduce carbon emissions. A 25 km network of bicycle lanes within the eco-town will also facilitate safe, carbon free transportation.

A bike lending system is also being developed, similar to that in Paris, to encourage residents to make use of the 25 km network of the bike lanes. The city also will offer charging stations in both residential and commercial buildings to support electric car usage within the city.

Parking lots will be mainly located underground or under canopies in order to minimize the urban 'heat island effect' and maximize pedestrian-oriented open space above ground. Five percent of parking lots within each block will be reserved for fuel efficient and low emitting vehicles. Office and commercial blocks will reserve an additional 5 percent of parking space for carpool vehicles. Infrastructure for electrical vehicle charging stations is also going to be integrated into parking garages in order to facilitate low-emission transportation.

Water efficiency is one of the hallmarks that Gale International proudly discusses. Water consumption in this city facilitates a cleaner and greener environment. The central park canal of the city uses seawater instead of fresh water in order to save thousands of liters of potable water per day. The city's canals are powered by wind turbines and the entire body of water is refreshed every 24 hours. 'Gray water' systems from larger buildings will collect, treat and reuse water for non-potable uses such as flushing, cleaning and irrigation.

The potable water-use target is a 90 percent reduction from the international baseline, largely through the use of efficient landscape design, water saving irrigation systems, reclaimed rainwater, and the reuse of treated gray water from a city wide central system. Public green spaces in the city are designed to use indigenous plants requiring little or no irrigation.

Also, low flow plumbing fixtures will be standard, as well as a system to treat and reuse storm-water runoff. All 'blackwater' will be reprocessed by the city. Drinkable water consumption in plumbing fixtures will target a 20 to 40 percent reduction from the baseline, while vegetated green roofs will reduce rain water runoff, mitigate the urban heat island effect and promote biodiversity and species habitat preservation.

A central city wide co-generation facility, fueled by natural gas, aims to provide clean power and hot water to each household, office and commercial building. Throughout Songdo, energy efficient LED (Light Emitting Diode) traffic lights and energy efficient pumps and motors are planned to shine the streets.

There is nothing to throw away in this green city. A centralized pneumatic waste collection system will be installed to collect wet and dry waste, completely eliminating the need for waste removal vehicles as well.  Seventy-five percent of the construction waste is targeted to be recycled. These recycled materials and locally produced or manufactured materials will be reused to the maximum extent possible. In addition, some projects of this city will see a reduction of 20 percent or more Portland cement through the utilization of fly-ash content concrete. Also, low VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) materials will be incorporated into all buildings, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40 percent, when compared to traditional concrete.

Gale International and Posco E&C will also focus on environmentally friendly, low or zero VOC, EcoLabel and "Good Recycled" designated products. This city will also be a smoking-free clean city - smoking will be prohibited in all public areas and office buildings in the city, except for specially designated areas for smokers.

These features make Songdo Green city stand apart from other sustainable development projects. Indeed, the Songdo project was recently named the winner of the first annual Sustainable Cities Award from the Urban Land Institute, the only project in Asia so honored.

Mr. John B. Hynes, CEO and Managing Partner of Gale International said in a press release, "The lessons and systems from Songdo International Business District (IBD) can be replicated around the world to create privately financed, master-planned green developments."

Big name companies such as LG, 3M, OTIS and Microsoft, have been participating in this huge project in order to push their environmentally friendly advanced technologies.

Carrier and LG developed the water-cooled central air conditioning specifically for Songdo City, which is the first time such a system has been used in Korea. These custom engineered units will provide a 20 percent energy savings over industry standard air-cooled units.

Information technology is one of key enablers of Songdo City's sustainability efforts as well. All major information systems such as residential, medical, business, governmental, etc., will share certain data at the residents' discretion. Computer systems will be integrated into the houses, streets and office buildings. This integration is believed to enhance the efficiency of management and energy, systems reliability and quality of life. For this, Microsoft, LG and other advanced technology companies are being incorporated into the project.

For instance, residents of this city will be able to speak with their children who are on the playground, their children's school teachers, and even neighbors through flat screen monitors in each apartment's living room. Moreover, these intelligent buildings will be able to guide cars to empty parking spaces and even call for elevators before people leave their apartments.

According to Gale International, long-term sustainability and the minimization of the city's carbon footprint have been considered in every design and engineering decision of the city. One of the goals of Gale International is to create an elegant urban environment with a significantly reduced carbon footprint, as compared to the standard baseline Korean or U.S. design. CEO Hynes said in a press release that the sustainable design has environmental, economic and social elements that benefit all building stakeholders, including owners, occupants and the general public.

The company also stressed that the new city is a 'pedestrian city' - the furthest residential districts are about a 30-minute stroll from the center. All blocks are designed to connect pedestrians to open spaces, walking and biking corridors and public gathering areas. Songdo City will also have a diversity of public transportation such as buses, subways, water taxis, bike ways and electric-car rentals.

According to Gale International, this intelligent and green city is about 40 percent underway. The company estimates the city will be completed by 2014. However, the road to the completion of Songdo City has been quite a bumpy ride. The opening of Songdo's flagship commercial building, Northeast Asia Trade Tower, which will be Korea's tallest building when complete, has been moved to late summer 2010 from December of this year because all of the necessary permits from the government have only been recently obtained. The developer has also had hard time with the Korean government over a statute requiring the majority of students in Songdo City's international schools to be non-Korean. While the majority of residents in Songdo City will be Korean nationals, requiring more than half of its students to be foreigners is a difficult task.

Moreover, Vancouver International Primary and Secondary School (VIPSS), which was selected as a founder and operator of New Songdo City International School (NSCIS) did not meet the criteria; VIPSS has an International Baccalaureate (IB) for only Primary School and does not have the experience in operating a high school. Therefore, the opening of the school has been delayed to next year and a new founder/operator will be selected. Gale International, however, said the issues have been solved and the school will open soon.

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