Wednesday, October 05, 2005

New Songdo - EPCOT for the 21st Century?

The New York Times reports today on the New Songdo City development in South Korea. New Songdo is interesting to look at within the context of the history of utopian planning projects. It is being constructed on reclaimed waterfront in Incheon, about 40 miles south of Seoul.

Billed as a "ubiquitous city," the Times piece focuses on how information technology is going to be permeated throughout the built environment. According to the Times;
A ubiquitous city is where all major information systems (residential, medical, business, governmental and the like) share data, and computers are built into the houses, streets and office buildings.
Given the quick pace of technological change and the comparative slow pace of constructing urban spaces, the digital specifics of the "ubiquitous city" are few and far between. The Times piece--which appeared in the paper's reconstituted "Circuits" section--focused on the predictable issue of urban surveillance that is part and parcel of the increasing power of digital technologies.

More interesting to me, however, are the parallels between New Songdo and urban utopian theorizing and building of yore.

Like George Pullman's eponymous town built in the 1880s, New Songdo is an idealized expression of the values and desires emanating from the dominant forms of political economy at the time. New Songdo fuses the techno-fetishism of the "ubiquitous city" with a full embrace of the major components of globalization: free-markets, linguistic homgenization, and rhetorical promotion of "sustainability."

The town is being financed both by Korean governmental sources and through U.S. capital--most specifically, the New Jersey developer, the Gale Company. Having a foreign developer like Gale invovled represents a fundamental change stemming from International Monetary Fund dictates leveled in the mid-90s that Korea liberalize its investment policies to allow more direct investment of foreign capital.

Like Walt Disney's original vision of EPCOT, New Songdo's planners want the city to be self-sufficient and a site for the latest in technological advances to be developed and implemented.

This will certainly be an interesting project to monitor.