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Despite expectations, cities in East Asia are becoming denser

Chandan Deuskar's picture
When we think of urban expansion in the 21st century, we often think of ‘sprawl’, a term that calls to mind low-density, car-oriented suburban growth, perhaps made up of single-family homes. Past studies have suggested that historically, cities around the world are becoming less dense as they grow, which has prompted worries about the environmental impacts of excess land consumption and automobile dependency. A widely cited rule of thumb is that as the population of a city doubles, its built area triples. But our new study on urban expansion in East Asia has yielded some surprising findings that are making us rethink this assumption of declining urban densities everywhere.

Seoul Goes Local in Development

Sujoyini Mandal's picture

A recent EASIN Urban, Transport and DRM Community of Practice (CoP) meeting I attended in Seoul, South Korea was an eye opener in terms of the rapid urban development of the city of Seoul.  Considered an East Asian tiger, manufacturing and an export-led economy have made Seoul a global city with neon skylines and the new focus of Asia’s technology boom. A presentation by Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG), the agency responsible for the city’s urban planning, describes the city as a ‘strategic space for people to reside in since ancient times’. Nevertheless, the city and its urban identity have gone through various transformations – through the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) to restoration after the Korean war (1950-53) to industrialization (1960s-1970s) to development and globalization. In SMG’s words, Seoul is witnessing the ‘environmental and historical awakening as a world city’. Evidence of this was seen in sites I visited to the restored Cheonggyecheon stream and a former landfill converted to Haneul Park.

Global High-Tech City Model

News story by Hannah Bae, Seoul

Near Seoul, a new city rises from the mud flats, aiming to become a world model of sensor-activated, computer-driven management of an entire city.

New construction in Songdo, South KoreaSONGDO, South Korea – Designed as a “city within a city” – in this case, the port city of Incheon, just west of South Korea’s capital in Seoul – the Songdo urban development is expected to become a bustling hub of efficient global commerce, education and research and development.

What happens when you build a city from scratch – or, rather, from mud flats?

The result isn’t instantaneous.  Right now – the spring of 2011 – the reality, following more than $10 billion of the estimated eventual $35 billion invested over seven and a half years of construction, is clusters of skyscrapers amid a giant construction site, only just starting to show signs of life. 

However, 2011 will be a big year for Songdo, as the city takes major steps toward becoming one of the most technologically advanced urban spaces in the world.