South Korea is known for its pioneering embrace of technology. Home of Samsung and LG, it boasts the highest internet speeds in the world and this technological prowess offers countless benefits to everyday people.
Now the country is trying to more fundamentally improve quality of life for its citizens.
On South Korea’s west coast, an experiment in urban living is underway in the form of a $35 billion city constructed on reclaimed marshland, according to the World Economic Forum.
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The International Business District (IBD) in Songdo City is a public-private partnership with US-based real estate developer Gale International and it strives to be a model for development in the emerging era of climate change. By prioritizing green spaces, clean air, and efficient management of resources, it’s reconceptualizing what a city can mean.
When it’s completed by 2020, the district intends to hold 300,000 workers. Throughout its network of streets, however, few cars will be found, WEF reports.
That’s because the urban planners behind the district are making it so that cars will no longer be needed — part of a broader global trend of phasing out these emissions-heavy vehicles.
As a result of this post-car approach, the city will produce a third of the greenhouse gases of comparably sized cities, WEF reports.
A state-of-the-art mass transit system is being built and all apartment buildings and businesses are located within 12 minutes of a bus or subway stop. The district will also have 15 miles of bike lanes that connect to 90 miles of bike lanes in the larger Songdo City, according to WEF.
Around 40% of its total area is set aside for parks and other green environments, more than twice the greenery found in New York, WEF reports.
My new city Songdo pic.twitter.com/bGqhN6TNVX— Dingception (@dingception) September 10, 2017
This environmental focus extends to the buildings as well, which are being constructed with the environmentally rigorous LEED standards in mind. This set of standards covers energy efficiency, sustainable material use, and resource management.
To that end, 40% of the water used in the IBD will be recycled, according to WEF. Further, all of the trash generated by the city will be handled by a pneumatic tube system that carries trash to a central processing system where it’s burned for energy or recycled.
Trash is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention a constant source of pollution, and this modernized system could further clean the city up.
The city, however, faces some roadblocks, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Attracting enough residents has been a challenge because of its relative proximity to Seoul, the undisputed economic and cultural powerhouse of South Korea. There are currently 70,000 active workers in the city, according to The Times, far below its goal. And it remains to be seen if the city will be a benefit to all people in a country that faces rising inequality, rather than just the well-connected.
Plus, the city’s very existence is somewhat problematic.
To create a foundation for the city in 2000, 500 tons of sand were poured on a marshland, calling into question just how environmentally friendly such a project could be, WEF reports. Sand is one of the most over-exploited resources in the world and its cultivation sometimes causes great harm to environments.
Nonetheless, with its emphasis on green spaces and sustainable living, the IBD could inspire similar efforts around the world.
Cities are on pace to hold 70% of the world’s population by 2050 and they account for the vast majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, cities are leading the way in the global effort against climate change, by embracing sustainability through limits on emissions and efficient infrastructure.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for sustainable cities. You can take action on this issue here.
If cities like IBD become the norm, then the goals of the Paris climate agreement could ultimately be achievable.
And then, maybe, bikes lanes will overtake commercial streets.