I’ve kept my promise of visiting Songdo in summer 2014! Songdo changed a lot since my last visit in winter 2013. First of all, there were more people on the streets. But it was also 40 degree warmer. Second, many new buildings were constructed or opened. The tallest skyscraper of South Korea opened: the Northeast Asia Trade Tower. It felt like a day isn’t enough to explore Songdo because it hosts so many different buildings, places and activities.
Many people visited and wrote about Songdo since the last visit. For example, Steve Miller made a video about the Incheon Global Campus of Songdo (here’s an article about that campus). Many international organizations moved to Songdo, among them are the Green Climate Fund and World Bank. Just some days ago there was an article about the smart city and eco-city concept of Songdo. In the Guardian Cities Colin Marshall summarized Songdo “as possibly the most humane space of its type”. Songdo IBD also published a new promotional video about Songdo.
This time I’ve tried to visit places like the Canal Walk and the undeveloped western part that I missed the last time. I’ve took a bicycle to visit less accessible areas.
There are very nice places and Songdo’s futuristic urban design gave me somehow the impression that I left Korea.
Songdo Canal Walk
The Canal Walk is a mix-used area with retail, restaurants and office units. Many foreign brands have their shops there. I was surprised that there have been so many public places to sit down and just relax.
The Canal Walk is divided into four blocks and each of them is separated by a four to six-lane road. This disrupts the area and, more importantly, the flow of visitors. It clearly minimizes the number of people visiting every block of the Canal Walk. That’s probably the reason why already at the third block there was no water in the canal.
This time I explored Songdo on two wheels. The IFEZ offers free bicycles. You just have to give your ID as a deposit. It is possible to use the bicycles for a maximum of three hours and until 5 pm you have to return them the latest. The offices are closed during lunch time! I saw rental stations at the G-Tower, Central Park Station and IBD-Station.
The previous time I complained about the discontinuous bike path-network. The problem hereby is that there are different types of bike paths and they don’t seem to be connected well to each other. For example in the residential areas you have a shared sidewalk:
All parks and green spaces have really great bike trails. The Central Park of Songdo has some like this one:
Then along the main streets the best cycling experience is on street-level cycle tracks:
Of course the bike path type differs by land use because the expected number of usages is different. Still a continuous network of for example street-level cycle tracks would have been nice.
In comparison to Seoul’s bike-path system Songdo’s bike-path has a great advantage at street crossings: Seoul usually has only one curb ramp (with a width of 1.5 meters or less) at a crossing. Even though it is for wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles, pedestrians prefer to use it as well. So there are always conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists (and others users). In Songdo there are usually two curb ramps: one ramp is connected to the bike paths and the other one is for pedestrians. If the street crossing is designed like that, you will even have three curb ramps:
Overall, cycling was quite pleasant. For the long-term IFEZ should replace their service with a public bike sharing system. Then it would be possible to borrow bikes easier and more convenient.
New Constructions in Songdo
Cranes are leading the way and showing the skyscrapers in what direction they will grow. On the left are the Posco Towers and the Tri-Bowl is on the right side.
This is the Northeast Asia Trade Tower:
The building just opened recently. Posco is going to move in later this year. Not only in this tower, but all over Songdo it seems that there is many unused commercial space.
This pedestrian bridge is also new. Before visitors had to take a detour to visit the eastern side of the lake in the case that they come from the Central Park subway station. The residents complaint about that inconvenience and so they got a new pedestrian bridge. It definitely raised the accessibility of the park and the apartments.
The white apartments on the right side of the picture are going to be opened in the next year. There is a lot of open green space between blocks. I believe that most of that is going to be developed.
The banners from the Posco Central Park apartment buildings disappeared. But I can’t find any updates on the issue of energy loss and the isolation-problems of the windows.
In front of the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club on the western end of Songdo a large apartment complex is in the making.
This is the first apartment complex on the western side. Now it is in themiddle of green fields. The real estate agency put up their office next to it and in the “model house” (a show room for the future apartments) you can walk through your future home. In front of the show room a lot of cars were parked and many people seem to have interests in buying apartments. Schools and kindergartens are going to move into the area, too. But still, I wonder why does Incheon and IFEZ allow development to begin in the middle of nowhere? The development should be first directly next to the existing areas and close to the subway stations. It probably implies their strong believe in the success of Songdo: Sooner or later the whole area will be built up.
There is an observation desk on the 29th floor of the G-Tower:
In the background you can see the apartment complex from the previous picture.
They are building a Hanok (traditional Korean housing style) complex next to the Central Park. Actually, it’s going to be a Hanok Hotel with 30 rooms and the opening will be in March 2015. You can see the construction site covered in blue fence screen on the right side of the lake.
This time I realized the strong presence of Posco. If you saw the article about Chaebol’s influence on urban development, you can call Songdo the “Posco City”. Songdo is still far from completion. A very surprising observation was that there have been many photographers with models or their products in Songdo. I saw them around the park and the Canal Walk. Songdo offers a special taste of urbanism for their pictures and the streets aren’t as crowded as the popular, modern areas of Seoul. Songdo is growing and people are populating the streets and shops. Songdo reached a level of maturity.