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EDITORIAL DESIGN “Sustainable Metropolis” Writen by Greg Lindsay

Sustainable Metropolis

NEW SONGDO The world is bracing for an influx of billions of new urbanities in the coming decades, and tech companies are rushing to build new green cities to house them. Are these companies creating smarter metropolis or just making money ?


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Hot, Flat, Soon Crowded: New Songdo City, South Korea, takes shape on what was once the Yellow Sea. In the foreground, its Central Park, modeled on Manhattan’s.

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tan Gale is exultant. The chairman of Gale International yanks off his tie, hitches up his pants, and mops the sweat and floppy hair from his brow. He’s beaming like a proud new papa, sprung from the waiting room and handing out cigars to whoever

happens by. Beckoning me to follow, he saunters across

eight lanes of traffic towards his baby, delivered prematurely three days before.

Ten years ago, Gale was a builder and flipper of office parks who would eventually become known for knocking down the Boston Landmark Filene’s Basement and replacing it with a hole in the ground. But Gale’s fate began to change in 2001 with a phone call from South Korea. The Korean government had found his firm on the Internet and made an offer everyone else had refused. The brief: Gale would borrow $35 billion from Korea’s banks and its biggest steel company, and use the money to build from scratch a city the size of downtown Boston, only taller and denser, on a muddy man-made island in the yellow sea. When Gale arrived to see the site, it was miles of open water. He signed anyway.

“‘S mart city', studded with chips talking to one another, designated as such years before IBM found its ‘Smarter Planet’ religion”. New Songdo City won’t be finished until 2015 at least, but in August, Gale cut the ribbon on the 100-acre “Central Park” modeled, like so much of the city, on Manhattan’s. Climbing on all sides will be a mix of low-rises and sleek spires-condos, offices, even South Korea’s tallest building, the 1,001-foot Northeast Asia Trade Tower, Strolling along the park’s canal, we hear cicadas buzzing, saws whining, and pile drivers pounding down to bedrock. I asked whether he’s

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stocked the canal with fish yet. “It’s four days old!” he splutters, for-getting he isn’t supposed to rest until the seventh. As far as playing God (or SimCity) goes, New Songdo is the most ambitious instant city since Brasilia 50 years ago. Brasilia, of course, was an instant disaster: grandiose, monstrously over scale, and immediately encircled by slums. New Songdo has to be better because there’s a lot more ridding on it than whether Gale can repay his loans. It has been hailed since conception as the experimental prototype community of tomorrow. A green city, it was LEED-Certified from the get-go, designed to emit third of the greenhouse gases of a typical metropolis its size (about 300, 000 people during the day). It’s an “international business district” and an “aerotropolis”- as Western-oriented city more focused on the airport and China beyond than on Seoul. And it’s supposed to be a “smart city,” studded with chips talking to one another, designated as such years before IBM found its “Smarter Planet” religion. Being seriously ahead of the curve explains why Gale had such a hard time finding a tech partner this dream frustration. First in line was LG, one of Korea’s homegrown conglomerates. None of its ideas had made it past the prototype stage. Next up was Microsoft, which signed a deal giving it carte blanche to mold the city in its image. “Designing an entirely new city from the ground up provides an unique opportunity to create an ideal technological infrastructure,” Bill Gates boasted. But before her could even measures for drapes, Gale decifvded a plumber would be a better fit and threw Microsoft over for Cisco. Last spring, the networking giant became New Songdo’s exclusive supplier of digital plumbing. Mowwre than simply installing routers and switches-or even something so banal as citywide Wi-Fi-Cisco is expected to wire every square inch of the city with synapses. From the trunk lines running beneath the streets to the filaments branching to every wall and fixture, it promises this city will “run on information.” Cisco’s control room will be New Songdo’s brain stem.

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The International Plaza is one of Songdo's Business District's high-concept, Rockefeller Center-inspired complexes.

And that’s just the beginning. No longer content to sell

As of now, we’re officially an urban species. More than half

just plumbing, the company is teaming up with Gale, 3M,

of us—3.3 billion people—live in a city. Our numbers are

United Technologies (UTC), and the architects of Kohn

projected to nearly double by 2050, adding roughly a New

Pedersen Fox (KPF) to enter the instant-city business. At a

Songdo a day; the United Nations predicts the vast majority

Cisco event near New Songdo last summer, Gale stunned

will flood smaller cities in Africa and Asia.

the room by announcing plans to eventually roll out 20 cities across China and India, using New Songdo as a template. In the spirit of Moore’s Law, he says, each will be done faster, better, cheaper, year after year. Cisco calls this Smart Connected Communities initiative a potential $30 billion opportunity, a number based not only on the revenues from installations of the basic infrastructure but also on selling the consumer-facing hardware as well as the services layered on top of that hardware. Picture a Cisco-built digital infrastructure wired to Cisco’s TelePresence videoconferencing screens mounted in every home and office, with engineers listening, learning and releasing new

“Cities are becoming unsettled,” warns Saskia Sassen, the Columbia University sociologist who’s the leading expert on cities’ collision with globalization. “They will be the sites of new wars—wars for water, for a clean environment, and not to mention room for some 700 million people displaced by climate change.” Sociologist Mike Davis prophesied in his apocalyptic Planet of Slums that “the cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel ... [will be] instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood.” In many places, they already are.

Cisco-branded bandwidth-hungry services in exchange for

It was this crushing demographic trend that drew Cisco into

modest monthly fees. You’ve heard of software as a ser-

the instant-city business. Gale first approached Cisco CEO

vice? Well, Cisco intends to offer cities as a service, bundling

John Chambers five years ago, “but we weren’t ready,” says

urban necessities–water, power, traffic, telephony–into a sin-

Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s chief globalization officer. It wasn’t until

gle, Internet-enabled utility, taking a little extra off the top

2006, after former President Bill Clinton challenged the compa-

on every resident’s bill.

ny to act on climate change, that it started thinking of building

“We have the hardware in place and what we need now

smarter cities. “Now,” Elfrink says, “we’re in catch-up mode.”

is the software,” Gale beseeched the Cisco execs in in New

Two years ago, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz

Songdo. “It’s going to be a cool city, a smart city We start

charged Cisco with helping to plan four new cities around the

from here and then we are going to built 20 new cities like

country, at a total cost of $70 billion. The aim was to establish

this one, using this blueprint. Green! Growth! Export!” Jaws

a Saudi Silicon Valley, one designed to create a million-plus

dropped. “China alone needs 500 cities the size of New

jobs and increase non-oil GDP by almost 50% in barely a

Songdo,” Gale tells me. And he has already done the deal

decade. These “economic cities” were explicitly intended to

to build the next two.

house and employ nearly half of the 10 million Saudis under the age of 17—a largely uneducated workforce described


as a “human time bomb.” Cisco’s job, improbable as it may

China doesn’t need cool, green, smart cities. It needs cities,

seem, was to help defuse it. The first of these cities began

period—500 New Songdos at the very least. One hundred

opening last year, but none are as far along as New Songdo.

of those will each house a million or more transplanted peas-

While the developing world wrestles with its impending

ants. In fact, while humanity has been building cities for 9,000

population boom, the entire world is confronting an explo-

years, that was apparently just a warm-up for the next 40.

sion of another sort: climate change. The battle against

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global warming will be fought in city streets. The world’s 20

be revealed? When buildings, power lines, gas lines, road-

largest megacities consume a staggering 75% of its ener-

ways, cell phones, residential systems, and so on are able to

gy. Buildings alone contribute 15% of all greenhouse gases,

taZlk to one another, that information can expose patterns of

more than all forms of transportation combined (13.5%).

waste and ways to avoid it. Just as wiring corporations made

Barring simultaneous breakthroughs in a raft of clean tech-

them leaner and meaner, wiring cities may be one way to

nologies—including solar cells, biofuels, and batteries—the

tease efficiency out of dumb networks like the power grid. For the last year, it’s been impossible to watch a football

“Is TelePresence going to be the next iPhone? I don’t know, but you can dream that big.”

game without being exhorted by IBM to “build a smarter planet.” And it’s true that even a relatively simple retrofit of existing cities can make a substantial dent in emissions. In Stockholm, a high-tech congestion-pricing scheme that IBM helped implement has increased tax revenue by $80 million while reducing traffic and CO2 by 18%. An IBM smart-grid

fastest way to shrink cities’ carbon footprints is through

test in Washington State concluded peak loads might be

conservation and efficiency. Unlike Walmart, which has a

trimmed enough nationwide to eliminate the need for 30

real-time glimpse into every store, truck, and warehouse in

coal-fired power plants over 20 years.

its system, cities are nearly impossible to parse. But hook them up to the right mix of sensors and software, the thinking goes, and who knows what efficiencies might suddenly

“Everything can be connected and everything can be green,” promises Elfrink, who calculates that in addition to

Cultural roots, New Songdo's Central Park fuses traditional motives of Korean culture with their new eco-friendly, technological side.

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creating millions of jobs, the smartening up of cities could

Habitat conference in Delhi a few weeks ago,” he says. “They

reduce emissions worldwide by 15% over the next decade,

fought urbanization for years, because they thought they

saving a ton of CO2 per person and nearly a trillion dollars.

should slow it down. But you can’t stop it. It’s not a curse—

Now the idea of spreading the smart-grid market alone “may

it’s an opportunity.”

be bigger than the whole Internet,” Chambers has said. That Cisco is staking so much on a mudflat in the Yellow Sea is a reflection of Chambers’s grand plan to move beyond the sale of routers and switches. His lieutenants are busy chasing as many as 30 different billion-dollar opportunities, or what he calls “adjacencies.” New Songdo is where several of them intersect. “We used to be a plumber,” Chambers tells me at Bill Clinton’s latest confab in New York. “And we were proud to be a plumber. It’s a very honorable profession and we made a lot of money doing it. But now we’ve moved from plumbing to being the platform for innovation througout the globe. And instead of taking the typical approach that most high-tech companies have taken, which is to sell standalone products and maybe think about how they tie together,”

It certainly looks like an opportunity if you’re a technology company. A flurry of white papers has been issued by the likes of HP, Autodesk, Oracle, and Cisco on topics including “Digital Cities,” “City 2.0,” “Intelligent Urbanisation,” and even a “Central Nervous System for the Earth.” The market is so new that no one can pinpoint the exact size of what’s at stake. The best guess, offered by the research firm IDC, pegs the smart-infrastructure business at $122 billion over the next two years. A better answer may be: “How much have you got?” Governments are looking to cash $3 trillion in stimulus checks, and behind that comes an estimated $35 trillion in global infrastructure spending over the next two decades.

Cisco is “filling a void in the industry, where we’re providing

The near-term strategy of tech firms appears to be, Tap

both the technology architecture” and the vision to govern-

available pools of sgtimulus funds to pilot a smart grid here

ments for “how you use this technology to change societies.”

and a smart sewer there. Sooner or later, someone will need to pull it all together, and that means wiring cities from the


ground up. IBM has chosen the unlikely venue of Dubuque,

Just a few years ago, smart cities were seen as Blade Runner

Iowa (population: 60,000), for its prototype, which is consis-

or Minority Report warmed over. Whatever guises they took—

tent with its more limited approach of retooling established

from “digital homes” to “ubiquitous computing”—it seemed

cities, mostly in the West. Cisco is hoping to prove its model

no one really wanted the questionable convenience of vid-

by embedding its technology in instant cities across the devel-

eophones or Internet-enabled fridges.

oping world. In addition to King Abdullah’s, there is Qatar’s

“It’s more pragmatic now, because the overriding agenda is sustainability,” Elfrink insists over breakfast in New Songdo last August. Fluting in a pronounced Dutch accent, Elfrink, in town for the opening of the Incheon Global Fair & Festival, an ersatz expo held in New Songdo’s honor, is comfortable switching from anthropology to technical minutiae in midsentence. He spearheads strategy for Cisco from the company’s Bangalore campus and also runs its $7 billion services unit. “I was a keynote speaker at the United Nations

Energy City and India’s Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, known by the all-too-appropriate acronym, GIFT. Six others are already planned. Elfrink estimates that at least $500 billion will be earmarked for instant cities over the next decade, with $10 billion to $15 billion allotted for network plumbing alone. Cisco hopes to pocket another $15 billion from the services running atop these systems, marketed to residents and mayors alike, starting with smart grids and meters. “The first phase will be very simple,” he says, “because people will spend money to save money.”

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This 5-million-square-foot development is located on the western edge of Central Park, the main open space of the City.

Cisco itself has spent a great deal of money acquiring

prospect of a Boston-size sandbox for TelePresence, Cisco’s

the tools it hopes will lock in first-mover advantage. What

fastest-growing business. On opening day of the Incheon

is now Smart+Connected Communities was announced a

fair, he cuts the ribbon on his company’s pavilion with great

year ago following the purchase of Richards-Zeta Building

fanfare, ushering guests inside for a glimpse of what’s to

Intelligence, whose software links buildings over the Internet,

come. Although a few demos dutifully depict turning down

for an undisclosed sum. The cities-as-a-service piece was

the entire city’s thermostat, the two-way video screens are

added through an investment in an Australian startup called

the stars of the show. In one scene, actors posing as doctor

Majitek. Together, they will integrate the babel of proprietary

and patient conduct a dramatized remote checkup. “The kill-

systems created by the likes of Honeywell, UTC, and Johnson

er app,” Elfrink tells me, “will be TelePresence. If you want to

Controls to heat, cool, and power modern office blocks. And

talk to your neighbors or book a table at a restaurant, you

if Cisco’s $3.4 billion bid for Tandberg goes through, it will

can do it via TelePresence.” Or you can attend class at New

instantly propel Cisco to No. 1 in the videoconferencing

Songdo’s International School. Or practice yoga with your

market, pairing Tandberg’s desktop screens with Cisco’s

yogi. Or work from home, as Elfrink often does in Bangalore.

room-size TelePresence models and possibly the set-top boxes from its $7 billion purchase of Scientific Atlanta. In the meantime, Elfrink and his deputies have wooed mayors, recruited experts, courted governments, and worked alongside KPF’s architects, 3M’s scientists, and UTC’s engineers to marry new energy-efficient materials and technologies with the urban Internet he envisions. Elfrink and Cisco’s official mission in New Songdo is sustainability—“from a social, environmental, and business point of view.” But on the ground last summer, Elfrink was audibly more excited by the

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CISCO'S CONTRIBUTIONS Seen from Cisco’s perspective, however, it’s all kinds of green. Installing screens and smart appliances in every home and office all but guarantees demand for the fattest pipes and biggest switches, and establishes Cisco as the gatekeeper between that underlying plumbing and every service built on top. Cisco and Gale will own the core of New Songdo’s consumer and metropolitan services, inviting third-party developers to fill in the gaps in exchange for a slice of


NEW SONGDO 65 Billion KWh 65 billion KWh of site electricity each year, The mayority of the electricity used at this building is used for lighting.

NEW YORK 198 Billion KWh 198 billion KWh of site electricity each year, The mayority of the electricity used at this building is used for lighting and office equipments.

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“In addition  to  creating millions of jobs,   smartening  up cities   c ould   reduce   e missions   worldwide  by 15% over  the  next  decade,  saving a  ton of  CO2 per person and nearly a trillion dollars.”

each transaction—think Apple’s App Store for homes and

cracking the code of urbanism itself. “There’s a pattern here,

cities. Imagine a wall-mounted flat screen, crowded with

repeatable,” he tells me. He won’t be content until he can

TelePresence calls, smart-meter readouts, and whatever else

standardize and mass-produce his cities in half the time for

Cisco has to offer. How does $5 a month for a daily consulta-

China. Indeed, New Songdo’s first clone will break ground

tion from your toilet sound? “I would love to have nutritional

this year on the outskirts of Changsha, a provincial capital

advice first thing in the morning,” Elfrink says earnestly. “Is

larger than Singapore. The Meixi Lake District will be larger

TelePresence going to be the next iPhone? I don’t know, but

than New Songdo and just as dense, smart, and green—

you can dream that big.” In this way, Cisco seems to be

and eerily familiar. This and every subsequent city will be

moving beyond smart cities’ sustainability mission and into

standardized around Gale’s partners’ products: the same

something close to social engineering. Ironically, this souped-

light fixtures, traffic signals, elevators, fuel cells, central

up vision is what a smart city used to mean—and why no one

air-conditioners—and TelePresence screens. The scope

wanted to live in one. People weren’t interested in applianc-

of his ambitions dovetails neatly with Cisco’s. “We’re try-

es talking amongst themselves, and they didn’t want to run

ing to replicate cities,” Elfrink says bluntly, but “we have

the risk of their houses needing a reboot. Tech executives

no standards. Every city is a new project, a new process,

called their disinterest a failure of “education” rather than

a new interface,” he continues, marveling at the ineffi-

a display of customers’ common sense. Cisco hopes to get around this problem in New Songdo by eventually installing TelePresence in every apartment whether residents want it or

ciency. “You shouldn’t spend time on an elevator. You shouldn’t spend time on lighting.”

not. The assumption is that folks will quickly learn to love it.

“It’s quality of life as a service,” complains Adam

Build it, apparently, and they will come. “The money pumped

Greenfield, the head of user-interface design for Nokia

into economies under the guise of recovery packages, that’s

and the author of Everyware, a Ninety-Five Theses for

the opportunity they’re trying to seize,” says Andrea Di Maio,

ubiquitous computing. “Everything we think of as organ-

a Gartner public-sector analyst. Di Maio skeptically notes that

ic and emergent in cities is absent. In Korea, everything

none of these would-be master builders have developed new

is just dropped onto a map. They clear out a rice paddy

technologies from scratch. Instead they’re bolting together

and suddenly it looks like the Upper West Side.”

what they have on hand and calculating the carbon savings that result. “Scratch the surface, and you start to wonder just how coherent this strategy really is,” he says. “Cities are highly complex systems, and one of the elements of highly complex systems is that when you monkey around with them, their predictability goes to zero,” says Pip Coburn, a technology analyst whose book The Change Function argues that the reason so many technologies fail is because the pain of changing old habits outweighs any benefits. It would be one thing if New Songdo were

Greenfield envisions three scenarios for Cisco’s smart cities, including New Songdo. “One, you install the screens and nobody uses them, ever—people are set in their ways and the technology dies from disinterest. Two, there’s some initial uptake, but because you designed the system so rigidly, they give up. Three , the best case scenario is that people take it up in such way that it is enormously successful, but somehow it has nothing at all to do with what the planners and strategists ever imagined.”

a one-off experiment, but Gale has assembled his dream team of architects and technologists with an eye toward

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Thanks for looking at my work! Designed by Peter Verastegui |

Sustainable Metropolis  

An article that talks about the conversations that go behind the raise of New Songdo, a new, eco-friendly and smart metropolis.