Cities as Gadgets: 8 Features This Brand-New City Has That Yours Doesn't

Just guessing: When you go to take out the trash, you don't drop it into a pneumatic tube, which sucks it to a central processing facility, right? Then you're not living in the future.

In Songdo, South Korea, planners and developers are building a $35 billion city from scratch. See: "Sim City," my feature article about the project.

When you're building a new city, there's plenty of technology and features to consider that either didn't exist or weren't practical in the past. These range from in-building technology to the municipal systems, from private perks to public services.

What's the point? In some cases, convenience. In others, ways to save money or energy. Songdo's residents use 40% less energy per person than an average existing city, because of things like building insulation, high-tech lighting, heating, and air conditioning systems, and the like, according to representatives. And the city has almost 14 million square feet of environmentally-certified space.

Here are 10 features Songdo offers that most cities don't have. One resident told me they make living in Songdo feel "very George Jetson."

1. Pneumatic Trash Collection

Instead of unweildy garbage cans and noisy trucks, a citywide, vacuum-powered system literally sucks garbage to the dump. Buildings are hooked up the garbage grid, but there are also portals in a few places around town. The benefits: No trash in public, easier disposal, fewer trucks on the streets, and lower vehicle emissions.

2. Massive Underground Parking Lots

Some 95% of Songdo's parking is underground, including one lot with more than 2,000 spaces. (Don't forget where you parked!) This means more open, green space for everyone.

3. Smart Water Networks

Songdo has three water networks: Freshwater, sewage, and treated "gray water," which is used for irrigation and some toilet flushing. Plus every building internally recycles a large portion of its own waste water.

4. High-Definition Telepresence

Songdo is in South Korea, so naturally it has super fast Internet access. It's also a test bed for Cisco's high-resolution videoconferencing products: About 10,000 Cisco units are expected to be installed in Songdo residences over the next several years, allowing people to videoconference in HD and interact with video-based tutoring and concierge services. In the city's Chadwick School, kids can do telepresence meetings with their counterparts at Chadwick's main campus in California.

5. Home and Building Automation

Songdo residents can monitor and control their apartments from anywhere via in-home, desktop, and mobile interfaces, as well as from computer kiosks around the city. They can use fingerprints to unlock their doors. They can control lights, blinds, and more. They can even call an elevator from a panel in their apartment.

6. Sensors Everywhere

Songdo is full of sensors. These range from apartment-building fire and safety monitors to highway traffic trackers. Flow sensors control the saltwater canal in Songdo's Central Park. Building managers can sense and display energy consumption to encourage people to conserve.

7. Smart Power and Heating

Songdo's power is generated by natural gas. The waste heat, in the form of hot water, heats buildings or powers cooling via absorption chillers.

8. Master-Plan City Layout

When you're building a city from scratch, you have a unique opportunity optimize transportation patterns, population density, recreational opportunities, and other factors that matter to people living htere. Songdo is built around a central green space, Central Park. Everything is designed to be a 12-to-15-minute walk or short bike ride from everything else to promote walking and discourage driving. Buildings are mixed-use, including residences and commercial space.

Don't miss: Sim City: Inside South Korea's $35 Billion City-On-Demand