The recent story of Cisco and the Songdo City project in South Korea illustrates the opportunity for the IT sector to positively impact sustainable development and improve resource efficiency.
The Sondo development being built by Gale International is a city designed and built from the ground up similar to Brasilia. Unlike Brasilia, Songdo City will be built green and is viewed as an experimental prototype of a city of tomorrow. It was targeted as LEED-certified from the beginning and is designed to emit approximately a third of the greenhouse gases of a typical city its size (about 300,000 people during the day).
It is being designed as a smart city.
This is where Cisco comes in.
Cisco is now the exclusive supplier of digital networking for the city. Cisco intends to go well beyond Wi-Fi and will wire the entire city form the trunk lines running beneath the streets to the cables running to every building. In Cisco’s view the city will run on information and be highly connected.
Cisco refers to this business opportunity as “Smart+Connected Communities” with a potential $30 billion in revenue. Cisco’s vision is to provide cities with a service of connecting and managing; water, power, traffic and telephony into a single, Internet-enabled utility.
Songdo City is just the beginning. Gale claims that he intends to build 20 new cites and that China alone needs 500 cities of this size. A bold vision and it will be impressive if it comes to pass. Whether the 20 or 500 cites are built or not is somewhat irrelevant.
In my mind the key story here is that cities are being designed and built smart. Smart in the way they collect and manage information and how the city uses this information to more effectively use resources such as energy and water. It also provides alternatives to commuting and collaboration by connecting the residents and businesses with disruptive technologies such as TelePresence and WebEx. A preference for high definition video conferencing over commuting or inter-city travel is suddenly an option.
In a world where resources are increasingly scarce (water in particular), building smart interconnected cities that can efficiently manage these resources is really the only alternative to the current metropolitan sprawl. The next step after building new smart cities from the ground up will be to improve the “intelligence” and connectivity of current urban centers. A far more daunting task but a move that is inevitable.