Sustainable Energy

Is S Korea building the city of the future?

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Is this the city of the future?
Is this the city of the future?

Today, more than half of our planet's population live in urban areas, with millions of people migrating from the countryside to towns and cities in search of prosperity to a point where the world's urban population has rocketed from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014, according to the United Nations.

As urban populations balloon, the strain on cities – many of them hundreds of years old – increases, with everything from transport to living space, healthcare and security put under pressure.

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In South Korea, the Songdo International Business District (Songdo IBD) is offering one vision of how cities might look in the future. A $35 billion project, Songdo has been developed across more than 1,000 acres of reclaimed land.

"The original concept of Songdo was as a gateway city to the Korean mainland from Incheon International Airport, where basically all the uses – be they residential, retail, work, educational or cultural – would… all be within a 15 minute walking time of one another," Jonathan Thorpe, senior EVP and chief investment officer at Gale International, part of the public-private partnership behind Songdo, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy.

As well as being technologically advanced, there is a heavy emphasis placed on sustainability. Forty percent of the city has been designated as "green public space" while the city is also home to 20 million square feet of LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – certified space.

"The residents can… control their lighting, their heating, ventilation, air conditioning usage, all within a single panel," Thorpe said.

"Moreover, they can track the actual consumption of energy that they individually are consuming, compare that to the use of their neighbours and this helps, really, greatly increase efficiency," he added.

The importance of technology is crucial, according to renowned British architect Norman Foster.

"In many ways technology has been a constant throughout civilization," Foster told Sustainable Energy.

"It's always been maximizing the materials to transform the climate and create a more comfortable environment in an age before cheap energy," he said.

"We have to relearn those traditional lessons and apply that with the technology of our time. You have to look at all the elements within the building – the materials, the way in which it responds to climate – to reduce the amount of energy and ideally move to buildings which harvest energy."