In Songdo, technology exists everywhere. Underground chutes “suck” trash out of houses and send them to be recycled to generate electricity. Apartments, streets, and traffic all have digital elements, and almost everything can be done remotely.
In many ways, Songdo is the utopia we imagine a smart city to be. But reality paints a different picture. People aren’t enticed to move in and hence businesses aren’t either. The cost of living is way too high, and in the city’s quest to become car-free—without providing public transportation that’s efficient enough—it takes almost two hours for residents to reach downtown Seoul for work.
With Songdo, simply implementing technology in city-wide operations ultimately wasn’t enough to achieve the grand goals it had planned, as this wasn’t what its residents required.
This tells us that an effective smart city in Asia is probably less about building cities from scratch than implementing technology where it’s most needed. Moreover, while higher-income cities like Songdo have their fair share of problems, bigger issues about not just quality of life but also standards of living still persist among the urban poor in lower-income cities till this day.
Thus, Asia’s smart cities have to prioritise efforts to do both—solve problems for their richer residents, as well as tackle some of the most severe and persistent issues faced by their urban poor.