Atlantic Cities

How Are Those Cities of the Future Coming Along?

The Economist reminds us that there are a number of "urban dreamscapes" around the world being built from scratch — each with the latest in smart technology and sustainable planning in mind. We surveyed the news to see how things are coming along, and when these cities of the future might arrive.

PlanIT Valley (Portugal)


Courtesy of Living PlanIT.

PlanIT Valley, situated outside Porto, Portugal, will be nothing if not a smart city. It was conceived by the Living PlanIT company, a developer of intelligent urban infrastructure, as a testing grounds for data-sensor technology. About 100 million real-time sensors will send information to a patented Urban Operating System designed to keep the whole built environment as efficient as possible.

Will Doig of Salon — which dubbed PlanIT Valley the "perfect city" — semi-recently offered a glimpse of the city in action. Air conditioners that shut off when you leave a room. Apartment units that alert the fire department in an emergency. Cars that gravitate toward empty parking spaces. (Wait, there are cars in a "perfect" city?)

That's all hypothetical for now. The project was delayed by the Portuguese financial crisis. But Living PlanIT will be testing some of its new data toys at the London City Airport, where they will perform such miracles as reducing security lines, and company co-founder Steve Lewis recently confirmed that construction of PlanIT Valley will begin later this year.

When finished, the city will be home to 225,000 people — largely company staff and their families. Total cost is expected to reach some $19 billion.

Masdar City (United Arab Emirates)


Courtesy of Masdar City.

The idea behind Masdar City was to create an eco-friendly oasis in the middle of the desert. Original plans were for the city near Abu Dhabi were about as ambitious as it gets. Masdar was supposed to be a carbon-neutral, zero-waste place with solar-paneled buildings, recycled water and waste, an energy-efficient wind system designed to keep the city cool.

Early critics questioned whether Masdar could achieve its vision, and indeed some of its goals haven't come to pass. (The city will be low carbon, not no carbon, according to Time.) American journalists who've visited have been encouraged, with a writer from Clean Technica saying that Masdar "most certainly is not greenwashing or a mirage." Caveat: some of the writers traveled on Masdar's dime.

Officials would like to see some 40-50,000 people settle in Masdar one day. Right now it's only a hundred or so students enrolled at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology. Masdar City will cost a bit more than PlanIT Valley, on the order of $20 billion, but much of that has already been pledged in the form of government contributions. Completion has been pushed to 2020, at the earliest.

Konza Techno City (Kenya)


Courtesy of Konza Techno City.

Dubbed "Silicon Savannah," Konza Techno City hopes to develop some 5,000 acres of land into a new home for the technology industry. Konza wants to attract software developers, data centers, and business process outsourcing, among other sectors. The city, which will be situated about 40 miles from Nairobi, expects to have 30,000 residents by the time it complete phase one in 2017.

When all four phases are complete, by 2030, Konza Techno City plans to have a central business district, a college campus, and enough people to fill 200,000 jobs [PDF].

Development has already hit a few hurdles. Konza officials want to keep an undeveloped 10-mile buffer zone around the city out of fear that private construction could interfere with the plans for the city. Progress was halted in June to converse with regional land-owners, and last month the Kenyan news site Mwakilishi reported that two counties have laid competing ownership claims to the city.

The city's official website strikes a more optimistic tone. A recent press release said construction was "on course" to begin by the end of the year.

Songdo (South Korea)


Courtesy of the city of Songdo.

Songdo, near Seoul, is South Korea's attempt to build a modern airport city from the ground up. Greg Lindsay, author of Aerotropolis, has called it "the most ambitious instant city" conceived in 50 years. Songdo is supposed to be among the world's greenest places, chock full of smart technology and efficient transport, and a natural magnet for the international business community — in one.

Songdo's reliance on technology have led some to call it a "city in a box." Homes, offices, and any number of other buildings will all be connected via a video conferencing system known as a "telepresence." Garbage will be transported by underground pneumatic tubes. EV charging stations will exist in abundance.

The city will also be an odd mixture of creative minds and architectural gimmicks. SUNY Stony Brook opened a math and science campus there, and George Mason and the University of Utah will open satellites, too. Songdo will greet these members of the knowledge class with replicas of Central Park in New York, and the canals of Venice, and the boulevards of Paris (and a golf course by Jack Nicklaus).

Largely up and running, Songdo may be complete by 2015 and hopes to become home to 65,000 people. While Popular Science recently reported [PDF] that 30,000 already live there, the BBC says "the streets, cafes and shopping centers still feel largely empty" and that less than 20 percent of commercial space is occupied.

Eric Jaffe is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities and the author of A Curious Madness (2014) and The King's Best Highway (2010). He lives in New York. All posts »

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