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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 grzeen cities to house them. Are these companies creating smarter metropolis-or just making money?


2 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

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.

Architecture and Design | 3

Stan 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.

4 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

New Songdo City won’t be finished until

disaster: grandiose, monstrously over

to one another, designated as such years

2015 at least, but in August, Gale cut the

scale, and immediately encircled by slums.

before IBM found its “Smarter Planet” religion.

ribbon on the 100-acre “Central Park”

New Songdo has to be better because

Being seriously ahead of the curve

modeled, like so much of the city, on

there’s a lot more ridding on it than wheth-

explains why Gale had such a hard time

Manhattan’s. Climbing on all sides will be

er Gale can repay his loans. It has been

finding a tech partner this dream frustra-

a mix of low-rises and sleek spires-condos,

hailed since conception as the experimen-

tion. First in line was LG, one of Korea’s

offices, even South Korea’s tallest build-

tal prototype community of tomorrow. A

homegrown conglomerates. None of

ing, the 1,001-foot Northeast Asia Trade

green city, it was LEED-Certified from

its ideas had made it past the proto-

Tower, Strolling along the park’s canal,

the get-go, designed to emit third of the

type stage. Next up was Microsoft, which

we hear cicadas buzzing, saws whining,

greenhouse gases of a typical metropolis

signed a deal giving it carte blanche to

and pile drivers pounding down to bed-

its size (about 300, 000 people during the

mold the city in its image. “Designing an

rock. I asked whether he’s stocked the

day). It’s an “international business district”

entirely new city from the ground up pro-

canal with fish yet. “It’s four days old!” he

and an “aerotropolis”- as Western-oriented

vides an unique opportunity to create

splutters, for-getting he isn’t supposed to

city more focused on the airport and China

rest until the seventh.

beyond than on Seoul. And it’s supposed to

As far as playing God (or SimCity)

be a “smart city,” studded with chips talking

goes, New Songdo is the most ambitious instant city since Brasilia 50 years ago. Brasilia, of course, was an instant

Architecture and Design | 5

International Plaza is one

an ideal technological infrastructure,”

United Technologies (UTC), and the archi-

of Songdo International

Bill Gates boasted. But before her could

tects of Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) to enter

Business District's high-

even measures for drapes, Gale decifvded

the instant-city business. At a Cisco event

concept, Rockefeller

a plumber would be a better fit and threw

near New Songdo last summer, Gale

Center-inspired complexes.

Microsoft over for Cisco.

stunned the room by announcing plans to

6 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

Last spring, the networking giant

eventually roll out 20 cities across China

became New Songdo’s exclusive supplier

and India, using New Songdo as a tem-

of digital plumbing. Mowwre than simply

plate. In the spirit of Moore’s Law, he says,

installing routers and switches-or even

each will be done faster, better, cheaper,

something so banal as citywide Wi-Fi-

year after year.

Cisco is expected to wire every square

Cisco calls this Smart Connected

inch of the city with synapses. From the

Communities initiative a potential $30 bil-

trunk lines running beneath the streets to

lion opportunity, a number based not only

the filaments branching to every wall and

on the revenues from installations of the

fixture, it promises this city will “run on

basic infrastructure but also on selling the

information.” Cisco’s control room will be

consumer-facing hardware as well as the

New Songdo’s brain stem.

services layered on top of that hardware.

And that’s just the beginning. No

Picture a Cisco-built digital infrastructure

longer content to sell just plumbing, the

wired to Cisco’s TelePresence videocon-

company is teaming up with Gale, 3M,

ferencing screens mounted in every home

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and office, with engineers listening, learning and releasing new Cisco-branded bandwidth-hungry services in exchange for modest monthly fees. You’ve heard of software as a service? Well, Cisco intends to offer cities as a service, bundling urban necessities–water, power, traffic, telephony–into a single, Internet-enabled utility, taking a little extra off the top on every resident’s bill. “We have the hardware in place and what we need now is the software,” Gale beseeched the Cisco execs in in New Songdo. “It’s going to be a cool city, a smart city We start from here and then we are going to built 20 new cities like this one, using this blueprint. Green! Growth! Export!” Jaws dropped. “China alone needs 500 cities the size of New Songdo,” Gale tells me. And he has already done the deal to build the next two.

The facts China doesn’t need cool, green, smart cities. It needs cities, period—500 New Songdos at the very least. One hundred of those will each house a million or more transplanted peasants. In fact, while humanity has been building cities

“Cities are becoming unsettled,” warns

future, rather than being made out of

for 9,000 years, that was apparently just

Saskia Sassen, the Columbia University

glass and steel ... [will be] instead large-

a warm-up for the next 40. As of now,

sociologist who’s the leading expert on cit-

ly constructed out of crude brick, straw,

we’re officially an urban species. More

ies’ collision with globalization. “They will

recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap

than half of us—3.3 billion people—live

be the sites of new wars—wars for water,

wood.” In many places, they already are.

in a city. Our numbers are projected to

for a clean environment, and not to men-

It was this crushing demographic trend

nearly double by 2050, adding roughly

tion room for some 700 million people

that drew Cisco into the instant-city busi-

a New Songdo a day; the United Nations

displaced by climate change.” Sociologist

ness. Gale first approached Cisco CEO

predicts the vast majority will flood smaller

Mike Davis prophesied in his apocalyp-

John Chambers five years ago, “but we

cities in Africa and Asia.

tic Planet of Slums that “the cities of the

weren’t ready,” says Wim Elfrink, Cisco’s

8 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

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

chief globalization officer. It wasn’t until

to establish a Saudi Silicon Valley, one

these cities began opening last year, but

2006, after former President Bill Clinton

designed to create a million-plus jobs and

none are as far along as New Songdo.

challenged the company to act on climate

increase non-oil GDP by almost 50% in

While the developing world wres-

change, that it started thinking of build-

barely a decade. These “economic cit-

tles with its impending population boom,

ing smarter cities. “Now,” Elfrink says,

ies” were explicitly intended to house and

the entire world is confronting an explo-

“we’re in catch-up mode.” Two years

employ nearly half of the 10 million Saudis

sion of another sort: climate change.

ago, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin

under the age of 17—a largely uneducat-

The battle against global warming will

Abdulaziz charged Cisco with helping to

ed workforce described as a “human time

be fought in city streets. The world’s 20

plan four new cities around the country,

bomb.” Cisco’s job, improbable as it may

largest megacities consume a stagger-

at a total cost of $70 billion. The aim was

seem, was to help defuse it. The first of

ing 75% of its energy. Buildings alone

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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.

contribute 15% of all greenhouse gas-

to watch a football game without being

That Cisco is staking so much on

es, more than all forms of transportation

exhorted by IBM to “build a smarter

a mudflat in the Yellow Sea is a reflec-

combined (13.5%). Barring simultaneous

planet.” And it’s true that even a rela-

tion of Chambers’s grand plan to move

breakthroughs in a raft of clean tech-

tively simple retrofit of existing cities can

beyond the sale of routers and switches.

nologies—including solar cells, biofuels,

make a substantial dent in emissions. In

His lieutenants are busy chasing as many

and batteries—the fastest way to shrink

Stockholm, a high-tech congestion-pric-

as 30 different billion-dollar opportuni-

cities’ carbon footprints is through con-

ing scheme that IBM helped implement

ties, or what he calls “adjacencies.” New

servation and efficiency. Unlike Walmart,

has increased tax revenue by $80 million

Songdo is where several of them intersect.

which has a real-time glimpse into every

while reducing traffic and CO2 by 18%.

“We used to be a plumber,” Chambers

store, truck, and warehouse in its system,

An IBM smart-grid test in Washington

tells me at Bill Clinton’s latest confab in

cities are nearly impossible to parse. But

State concluded peak loads might be

New York. “And we were proud to be a

hook them up to the right mix of sensors

trimmed enough nationwide to eliminate

plumber. It’s a very honorable profession

and software, the thinking goes, and who

the need for 30 coal-fired power plants

and we made a lot of money doing it. But

knows what efficiencies might suddenly be

over 20 years.

now we’ve moved from plumbing to being

revealed? When buildings, power lines,

“Everything can be connected and

the platform for innovation througout the

gas lines, roadways, cell phones, residen-

everything can be green,” promises Elfrink,

globe. And instead of taking the typical

tial systems, and so on are able to taZlk to

who calculates that in addition to creating

approach that most high-tech companies

one another, that information can expose

millions of jobs, the smartening up of cities

have taken, which is to sell stand-alone

patterns of waste and ways to avoid it. Just

could reduce emissions worldwide by 15%

products and maybe think about how they

as wiring corporations made them lean-

over the next decade, saving a ton of CO2

tie together,” Cisco is “filling a void in the

er and meaner, wiring cities may be one

per person and nearly a trillion dollars. Now

industry, where we’re providing both the

way to tease efficiency out of dumb net-

the idea of spreading the smart-grid mar-

technology architecture” and the vision to

works like the power grid.

ket alone “may be bigger than the whole

governments for “how you use this tech-

Internet,” Chambers has said.

nology to change societies.”

For the last year, it’s been impossible

10 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

should slow it down. But you can’t stop

that means wiring cities from the ground

it. It’s not a curse—it’s an opportunity.”

up. IBM has chosen the unlikely venue of

It certainly looks like an opportunity

Dubuque, Iowa (population: 60,000), for

if you’re a technology company. A flur-

its prototype, which is consistent with its

ry of white papers has been issued by

more limited approach of retooling estab-

the likes of HP, Autodesk, Oracle, and

lished cities, mostly in the West. Cisco is

Cisco on topics including “Digital Cities,”

hoping to prove its model by embedding

“City 2.0,” “Intelligent Urbanisation,” and

its technology in instant cities across the

even a “Central Nervous System for the

developing world. In addition to King

Earth.” The market is so new that no one

Abdullah’s, there is Qatar’s Energy City

can pinpoint the exact size of what’s at

and India’s Gujarat International Finance

stake. The best guess, offered by the

Tec-City, known by the all-too-appropri-

research firm IDC, pegs the smart-infra-

ate acronym, GIFT. Six others are already

structure business at $122 billion over the

planned. Elfrink estimates that at least

Smart City

next two years. A better answer may be:

$500 billion will be earmarked for instant

“How much have you got?” Governments

cities over the next decade, with $10 billion

Just a few years ago, smart cities were

are looking to cash $3 trillion in stimulus

to $15 billion allotted for network plumb-

seen as Blade Runner or Minority Report

checks, and behind that comes an esti-

ing alone. Cisco hopes to pocket another

warmed over. Whatever guises they

mated $35 trillion in global infrastructure

$15 billion from the services running atop

took—from “digital homes” to “ubiqui-

spending over the next two decades.

these systems, marketed to residents and

tous computing”—it seemed no one really

The near-term strategy of tech firms

mayors alike, starting with smart grids and

wanted the questionable convenience of

appears to be, Tap available pools of sgtim-

meters. “The first phase will be very sim-

videophones or Internet-enabled fridges.

ulus funds to pilot a smart grid here and a

ple,” he says, “because people will spend

“It’s more pragmatic now, because the

smart sewer there. Sooner or later, some-

money to save money.”

overriding agenda is sustainability,” Elfrink

one will need to pull it all together, and

Cisco itself has spent a great deal of

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 Habitat conference in Delhi a few weeks ago,” he says. “They fought urbanization for years, because they thought they

Computer rendenring of the city, which is planned to be finish by the year 2015.

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Use of Electricity in Office Buildings 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.

12 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

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

and cities. Imagine a wall-mounted flat screen, crowded with TelePresence calls, smart-meter readouts, and whatever else Cisco has to offer. How does $5 a month for a daily consultation from your toilet

money acquiring the tools it hopes will

But on the ground last summer, Elfrink was

sound? “I would love to have nutritional

lock in first-mover advantage. What is

audibly more excited by the prospect of

advice first thing in the morning,” Elfrink

now Smart+Connected Communities

a Boston-size sandbox for TelePresence,

says earnestly. “Is TelePresence going to

was announced a year ago following

Cisco’s fastest-growing business. On

be the next iPhone? I don’t know, but you

the purchase of Richards-Zeta Building

opening day of the Incheon fair, he cuts

can dream that big.”

Intelligence, whose software links buildings

the ribbon on his company’s pavilion with

In this way, Cisco seems to be moving

over the Internet, for an undisclosed sum.

great fanfare, ushering guests inside for

beyond smart cities’ sustainability mission

The cities-as-a-service piece was added

a glimpse of what’s to come. Although a

and into something close to social engi-

through an investment in an Australian

few demos dutifully depict turning down

neering. Ironically, this souped-up vision

startup called Majitek. Together, they will

the entire city’s thermostat, the two-way

is what a smart city used to mean—and

integrate the babel of proprietary sys-

video screens are the stars of the show.

why no one wanted to live in one. People

tems created by the likes of Honeywell,

In one scene, actors posing as doctor

weren’t interested in appliances talking

UTC, and Johnson Controls to heat, cool,

and patient conduct a dramatized remote

amongst themselves, and they didn’t want

and power modern office blocks. And if

checkup. “The killer app,” Elfrink tells me,

to run the risk of their houses needing a

Cisco’s $3.4 billion bid for Tandberg goes

“will be TelePresence. If you want to talk to

reboot. Tech executives called their disin-

through, it will instantly propel Cisco to

your neighbors or book a table at a res-

terest a failure of “education” rather than

No. 1 in the videoconferencing market,

taurant, you can do it via TelePresence.”

a display of customers’ common sense.

pairing Tandberg’s desktop screens with

Or you can attend class at New Songdo’s

Cisco hopes to get around this problem

Cisco’s room-size TelePresence models

International School. Or practice yoga

in New Songdo by eventually installing

and possibly the set-top boxes from its $7

with your yogi. Or work from home, as

TelePresence in every apartment whether

billion purchase of Scientific Atlanta. In the

Elfrink often does in Bangalore.

residents want it or not. The assumption is

meantime, Elfrink and his deputies have

Seen from Cisco’s perspective, howev-

wooed mayors, recruited experts, court-

er, it’s all kinds of green. Installing screens

ed governments, and worked alongside

and smart appliances in every home and

“The money pumped into economies

KPF’s architects, 3M’s scientists, and

office all but guarantees demand for

under the guise of recovery packages,

UTC’s engineers to marry new energy-

the fattest pipes and biggest switches,

that’s the opportunity they’re trying to

efficient materials and technologies with

and establishes Cisco as the gatekeep-

seize,” says Andrea Di Maio, a Gartner

the urban Internet he envisions.

er between that underlying plumbing and

public-sector analyst. Di Maio skepti-

every service built on top. Cisco and Gale

cally notes that none of these would-be

will own the core of New Songdo’s con-

master builders have developed new

sumer and metropolitan services, inviting

technologies from scratch. Instead they’re

Elfrink and Cisco’s official mission in New

third-party developers to fill in the gaps

bolting together what they have on hand

Songdo is sustainability—“from a social,

in exchange for a slice of each transac-

and calculating the carbon savings that

environmental, and business point of view.”

tion—think Apple’s App Store for homes

result. “Scratch the surface, and you start

Cisco's Contributions

that folks will quickly learn to love it. Build it, apparently, and they will come.

Architecture and Design | 13

ONE OF THE WORLDS GREENEST AND MOST WELCOMING CITIES Songdo IBD has been designated with 40% open space Open spaces and public gathering areas are arranged to optimize access to sunlight views, open sky, and to maximize the connection to nature within the city for residents, workers and visitors.

14 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

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views of the landmark Incheon Bridge. Unlike the hyper-chaos of Korea’s other major cities, cobbled together over centuries of growth, Songdo is an ambitious exercise in 21st-century urban planning, a completely new city built upon land reclaimed from the sea, blessed with wide boulevards, pleasant parks and inspired architecture.

16 | The Rice of a New Metropolis

“Cisco is “filling a void in the industry, where we’re providing both the technology architecture” and the vision to governments for “how you use this technology to change societies.” to wonder just how coherent this strategy

“we have no standards. Every city is a new

really is,” he says.

project, a new process, a new interface,”

“Cities are highly complex systems,

he continues, marveling at the inefficiency.

and one of the elements of highly com-

“You shouldn’t spend time on an eleva-

plex systems is that when you monkey

tor. You shouldn’t spend time on lighting.”

around with them, their predictability

Gale’s timetable is, if anything, too

goes to zero,” says Pip Coburn, a tech-

slow for Elfrink, who expects to sign deals

nology analyst whose book The Change

with an additional half-dozen municipali-

Function argues that the reason so many

ties this year. Because a city in Korea has

technologies fail is because the pain

a different social dynamic than a city in

of changing old habits outweighs any

China, or a city in Brazil.”

benefits. It would be one thing if New

“It’s quality of life as a service,” com-

Songdo were a one-off experiment, but

plains Adam Greenfield, the head of

Gale has assembled his dream team of

user-interface design for Nokia and the

architects and technologists with an eye

author of Everyware, a Ninety-Five Theses

toward cracking the code of urbanism

for ubiquitous computing. “Everything we

itself. “There’s a pattern here, repeat-

think of as organic and emergent in cit-

able,” he tells me. He won’t be content

ies is absent. In Korea, everything is just

until he can standardize and mass-pro-

dropped onto a map. They clear out a

duce his cities in half the time for China.

rice paddy and suddenly it looks like the

Indeed, New Songdo’s first clone will

Upper West Side.”

break ground this year on the outskirts

Greenfield envisions three scenari-

of Changsha, a provincial capital larger

os for Cisco’s smart cities, including New

than Singapore. The Meixi Lake District

Songdo. “One, you install the screens and

will be larger than New Songdo and just

nobody uses them, ever—people are set

as dense, smart, and green—and eerily

in their ways and the technology dies

familiar. This and every subsequent city

from disinterest. Two, there’s some initial

will be standardized around Gale’s part-

uptake, but because you designed the sys-

ners’ products: the same light fixtures,

tem so rigidly, they give up. Three , the

traffic signals, elevators, fuel cells, cen-

best case scenario is that people take it

tral air-conditioners—and TelePresence

up in such way that it is enormously suc-

screens. The scope of his ambitions dove-

cessful, but somehow it has nothing at all

tails neatly with Cisco’s. “We’re trying to

to do with what the planners and strate-

replicate cities,” Elfrink says bluntly, but

gists ever imagined.”

Architecture and Design | 17


New Songdo | Magazine Article