The Korea Herald


Songdo sets new standard for future cities


Published : March 30, 2010 - 14:36

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"Seoul looks like it was created by a kid playing Sim City," is how one expat described Korea`s capital.
Though he meant it for chuckles, his statement hit upon a widely held view of the city whose greater metropolitan area is home to almost half of the nation`s population.
The Seoul city skyline, though slowly changing through redevelopment, is still plagued with the so-called "commie-blocks," or concrete residential complexes that were built during the 60s.
Grey, grim and lacking in aesthetic, they have become the nation`s biggest eyesores.
To right these wrongs, Incheon looks to be on the forefront of city planning -- building a city which will strictly adhere to a zoning plan ensuring that financial districts will be nearly aligned with skyscrapers relevant to commerce; residential areas which will only house structures for living; and recreational city centers that will provide plenty of family-friendly space. Most importantly, there will be enough naturally preserved real estate rich in vegetation.
With green areas covering more than 30 percent of the city and the installation of a ubiquitous wireless network, city officials promise that Songdo will be the first of its kind where technology and nature will be perfectly balanced.
More importantly, as an International Free Economic Zone, expats will be able to live in an accessible environment free from the language barrier.
Global campuses and international schools will provide foreign families an opportunity to continue their children`s education.
This is the vision of Songdo, Yeongjong and Cheongna, the three cities under construction in the IFEZ. The zone will transform Incheon from a manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-based one.
Each of the three major districts will take on a special function. Songdo will focus on the biomedical field and global education institutions; Yeongjong will function as a transportation and logistics hub; and Cheongna will host a robot-themed amusement park.
With the first phase of its development scheduled to be completed this year, Incheon is taking steps to become a new financial and logistics hub in Northeast Asia and stand at the vanguard of the country`s green growth.

Foreign investment

Known as the "Hermit Kingdom," Korea has historically been known as a staunchly homogenous society. That even applied to its financial sector until the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, which exposed serious weaknesses in the nation`s economic foundation.
And this is why Incheon takes pride in being part of developing a new city which will open its doors to global investment.
The IFEZ will have no tariffs and provide first-rate infrastructure.
$612 million worth of foreign direct investment has been secured so far this year from companies such as DHL, Gale International, GM Daewoo and many more, according to the IFEZ Authority.

The Korean government has been offering attractive deregulation policies to compete with other free economic zones in Asia. It has recently decided to offer real estate for foreign invested companies, foreign education and medical institutions and R&D facilities at prices below costs. It also transferred some of its property rights to commissioners of FEZs to help foreign invested companies or factories move into the zone without the bureaucracy involving acquiring approvals from the central government.
The government also plans to lift the price ceiling on new apartments to be built in the nation`s free economic zones in a bid to draw more foreign investment. Currently, private builders who sell new apartments built on public land cannot set their prices over a certain level.
Earlier in the year, tax exemptions for large-scale foreign-invested companies in the country`s free economic zones were expanded from five years to seven years. The new tax benefits will apply to foreign manufacturing or tourism business with at least $10 million of investment and to logistic and medical firms with foreign investment of at least $5 million.
The government will also ease immigration rules for investors engaged in logistics and research center developments who respectively report at least $5 million and $2 million in investments. The government also plans to ease the visa issuance process for employees who are to work in foreign-invested companies in FEZs.

Campus host

To help curb the costly venture of sending one`s children to study abroad, the Songdo Global University Campus network will accommodate more than six universities from the United States to establish satellite universities, in addition to local universities.
Of them, campuses from the State University of New York and North Carolina State University are ready to commence next fall. The other four that plan to open campuses are the University of Southern California, the University of Delaware, the George Mason University and the University of Missouri at Columbia.
By 2012, Incheon expects 10 foreign universities to break ground in the city, accommodating an estimated 12,000 students.
Located in Songdo`s sector 7, the campuses will enjoy the benefits of sitting in the free economic zone of Incheon.
City officials hope this plan will also attract other Asian students for their further studies.
Each university is planning to open their specialty departments at the campus, such as computer technology for SUNY and biotechnology for NCSU. The education curriculum will be the same as at the universities` main campuses, including the student admissions process. Students of the extended campuses in Songdo will also have a chance to study at the main campus in the United States.
In addition, five Korean universities are also set to open a Songdo campus, including Inha University, Korea University, Sogang University, Hongik University and Hankook University of Foreign Studies.
HUFS, for instance, is to build its campus on a 48,000 square meter plot and will specialize in training professional interpreters in 34 different languages.
Yonsei University, which sparked the race toward Songdo among prominent educational institutions by being the first to sign with Incheon, will continue efforts to attract more schools to the joint campus complex.
For parents with primary school-aged children, the Songdo International School is designed to groom them into multi-lingual citizens of the world.
Built within the New Songdo City`s free economic zone, the school lies on 71,400 square meters of prime real estate -- plenty of space for its state-of-the-art facilities such as its digital library, 600-seat movie theater, gymnasium, and assembly hall.
The academic and co-curricular program is designed for kindergarten through sixth grade students for the first year, with successive grades added until high school is completed.
A total of 2,100 students will be taught by a team of teachers from around the world. Each educator will be delegated 10 students.
Situated some 13 kilometers from Incheon International Airport and 38 kilometers from Gimpo Airport, the school is ideal for children of foreign residents to continue their education.

Space aeronautics and development

Incheon will take the initiative to usher in a new era of space aeronautics research and development by investing heavily on the nation`s space program.
Spacecraft construction, the production of parts, engines, as well as assembly will all be taken on by a new proposed state-of-the-art space aeronautics facility to be constructed on the grounds of the New Songdo City.
Ukraine`s Yuzhnoye State Design Office will spearhead the design of the complex, along with LIL Asia Corporation.
In the initial phase, construction will be completed on a research center with an announced capability to gather micro rays from the sun outside of the earth`s atmosphere over sectors 4, 5, and 7 of Songdo City by 2010 -- with full operation to take effect on 2015 -- the year construction on Songdo city is projected to be complete.
On phase two, an aeronautics and space development complex that will house several R&D-related facilities will be built on approximately 1.65 million square meters within sector 11 of the city`s construction site.
Through the creation of Ukraine`s space and aeronautic-related industries committed to research and development, the proposed facilities will focus on the development of renewable energy and a "green city."

A cosmopolitan lifestyle

What good is a city without providing outlets for its residents to enjoy a bit of nature and culture?
The IFEZ answers that question with the recently completed Songdo Central Park and the currently under-construction Milano Design City.
As most people know, every internationally renowned city has distinguishing parks like downtown New York`s Central Park which sees 25 million visitors every year. Along with its picturesque natural landscape surrounded by turn-of-the-century architecture, people flock to them because they provide a bit of calm in the midst of urban chaos as all metropolitan cities serve up for their stressed residents.
Aimed at becoming a Korean version of the U.S. landmark, the Songdo Central Park is situated in the heart of the Songdo International Business District within the Incheon Free Economic Zone, some 30 kilometers west of Seoul.
Every corner of the 405,000-square-meter park is equipped with business, residential and commercial facilities.
Skyscrapers such as Songdo Convensia convention center, which opened last October, and the 65-storey Northeast Asia Trade Tower are forming a huge city landscape in the eastern part of the park.
The northern area houses a high-end residential zone where opulently tall apartment complexes stand.
Especially attractive is a 1.8-kilometer-long canal that runs through the 100-acre park. Inspired by the waterway in Venice, the canal is filled with 85,500 tons of seawater purified through a double filter and will prevent the canal from freezing in winter.
For those seeking a more cultural experience, the creation of the Milano Design City is among Incheon City`s most ambitious projects. Set to be complete by 2017, it is a design-focused exhibition complex which will be the first of its kind in Korea.
The project is a collaboration between Incheon and Milan to establish a complex which will house a total of 10 Italian design- and culture-related institutions.
Milano Design City is set to secure an estimated exhibition area of 470,000 square meters, which would be eight times larger than the KINTEX exhibition space in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, currently the country`s biggest of its kind.
Incheon City expects the complex to draw more than 5 million visitors every year through hosting some 70 international exhibitions.
"The Milano Design City project will be able to create production and provide added value of 6 trillion won (about $5 billion) a year, plus more than 50,000 jobs. The recent land supply agreement which was signed between Incheon City and Korea Land Corporation, enabled us to actively start pushing this project," said an Incheon official.
The Fiera Milano Group will act as consultants on the overall planning of the complex while celebrated Italian designer Alessandro Mendini and Myungji University chair-professor Kim Suk-chul will be responsible for the planning.

By Song Woong-ki