In South Korea, the UAE and India, monumental smart city projects are underway. We took a look at the smart city concept and saw how 20st century town planners see the city of the future.

Could you define a smart city? One out of every two French people can’t!

A survey in France revealed that 48% of the people questioned had no idea of what a smart city was, according to m2ocity. But then again, who can blame them? Even the authors of the “City of tomorrow 2014 report admit that answering the question is a tricky business given the mind-boggling number of projects and initiatives that claim the “smart city” label. In a lecture earlier this year entitled “Smart Cities: A New Challenge for Design”,

Antoine Picon, Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, confirmed the complexity of the nature of a smart city, saying that smart cities “represent far more than a series of coordinated technological innovations. They are synonymous with a new kind of urban experience.”

The m2ocity report focused on the following aspects of a smart city:

  • Telecom infrastructures (ultra-fast broadband for communicating objects)
  • Responsible, sustainable water and energy management (smart grids)
  • Smart buildings
  • Waste recycling schemes
  • Urban mobility
  • Initiatives to improve citizens’ quality of life such as pollution reduction, solidarity and personal and professional development.

The report also includes governance and participative democracy as crucial factors of the smart city, as defined by European smart cities.


100% smart: purpose-built smart cities and districts

Whilst most smart city projects involve implementing smart infrastructures to existing cities, there are also a growing number of entirely smart cities built from scratch.

Songdo City, South Korea was the first purpose-built smart city. For an estimated cost of over $40 billion, the first phase of this giant “urban digital laboratory” was built between 2001 and 2009. Around 75,000 residents (ultimately 300,000 are expected) are currently experimenting with this ultra-connected lifestyle (smart traffic management, ultra-fast Wi-Fi on the underground, etc.). The aim of the project is to cut CO² emissions by 70%, water consumption by 30% and provide 40% green spaces and constant high-speed internet connection via screens installed in all buildings and homes.


In Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Masdar is another example of a purpose-built, CO²-neutral, waste-free smart city and showcase for the city of the future. Itself funded by oil money (an investment of $18 billion), Masdar aims to phase out the use of fossil fuels in favour of renewable sources via a solar power plant, electrically-powered public transport and private cars, and ultra-energy efficient public buildings and residences. By the time the project is completed in 2016 it should be able to accommodate 40,000 people and the already operational Masdar Institute, co-created with MIT, will be a global pioneer in digital city research.


Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away in India, new Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently an even more ambitious project: he plans to build 100 smart cities across the country over the next five years as part of a $1.2 billion government investment. The cities are to be built on the outskirts of the country’s metropolises (Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangalore, etc.) and the official list of cities has been drawn up by the Indian government. The purpose of these sustainable, ultra-connected urban developments is to stem the exodus to the already overcrowded existing cities and offer residents improved employment prospects and a better quality of life.

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