The Ubiquitous-Eco-City of Songdo: An Urban Systems Perspective on South Korea's Green City Approach

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

The Ubiquitous-Eco-City of Songdo: An Urban Systems Perspective on South Korea's Green City Approach

  • Paul D. Mullins The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London, UK

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Abstract:  Since the 1980s, within the broader context of studies on smart cities, there has been a growing body of academic research on networked cities and “computable cities” by authors including Manuel Castells (Castells, 1989; Castells & Cardoso, 2005), William Mitchell (1995), Michael Batty (2005, 2013), and Rob Kitchin (2011). Over the last decade, governments in Asia have displayed an appetite and commitment to construct large scale city developments from scratch—one of the most infamous being the smart entrepreneurial city of Songdo, South Korea. Using Songdo as a case study, this paper will examine, from an urban systems perspective, some of the challenges of using a green-city model led by networked technology. More specifically, this study intends to add to the growing body of smart city literature by using an external global event—the global financial crisis in 2008—to reveal what is missing from the smart city narrative in Songdo. The paper will use the definition of an urban system and internal subsystems by Bertuglia et al. (1987) and Bertuglia, Clarke and Wilson (1994) to reveal the sensitivity and resilience of a predetermined smart city narrative. For instance, what happens if the vision moves from the originally intended international-orientated population towards remarketing the city to attract a domestic middle-class population. The lens of the financial crisis in 2008 revealed that the inherent inflexibility of a closed-system approach in Songdo was not sufficiently resilient to external shocks. The shift towards a domestic middle-class population revealed the inequality in accessing the city services in a system designed with formalized and rigid inputs and outputs. By focusing predominantly on technology, the social dimensions of the city were not part of Songdo’s smart city vocabulary. Therefore, in adopting a technologically deterministic approach (Mullins & Shwayri, 2016) to achieving efficiency and combating environmental issues, Songdo’s green city model was found insufficient in its ability to cope with the complexity and dissonance that occurs in relation to “glocal” challenges facing cities today.

Keywords:  eco-cities; Free Economic Zones; green city; smart city; Songdo; South Korea; sustainability; ubiquitous; urban systems

Published:   29 June 2017


© Paul D. Mullins. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.