What makes a city smart? How efficiently its public services operate? The digital savviness of its people? The sustainability of its infrastructure? The mayor of Seoul, Korea, Park Won-soon, says, "the key to becoming a smart society is 'communication' on a totally different level. A smart city, for instance, involves communication between person and person, people and agencies, and citizens and municipal spaces, with human beings always taking the central position in everything. A smart city is also characterized by its unprecedented level of sharing".
The city of Seoul, South Korea's capital and largest metropolis, has been hailed by many travelers and IT experts as the smartest, most connected city in the world. While recently attending the World Knowledge Forum I was able to make my own observations. To say I felt connected and informed while traveling through the megacity is an understatement. As soon as I entered the Sheraton Grand Hotel, where the event took place, I noticed monitors in the floor playing videos of the featured speakers. This isn't something I've seen in New York City...yet.
Holding a high-tech population of more than 10 million people, Seoul is the largest city proper in the developed world, and has the world's most highly used subway system serving the metropolitan area with 765 bus routes, nine metro lines and 391 stations. People there are able to use an electronic currency called T-Money, which comes in the form of a card, and can be used to pay for every mode of public transportation.
What smart transportation trends will other cities follow?
Along with T-Money, the city also introduced Upass, the world's first commercially used, contactless smart card, along with the integration of 4G and wifi in all stations and subways cars.
In addition to the aforementioned, seamless connectivity, state-of-the art Digital View terminals installed at Seoul subway stations keep residents and foreigners informed when they're on the go. Resembling a giant smartphone, the terminals and networks created by the Korean Internet portal Daum, provide users with a detailed navigation system that optimizes the best routes to take when a starting point and destination are entered. All the city's bus lines, their stops, and drop-off and pick-up times are included, along with satellite street views of locations, such as restaurants and other tourist attractions. The coordinates for banks, schools, hospitals, and real estate are also featured. T-money comes in handy when users want to use a Digital View terminal's handheld phone, which offers news, weather and financial information.
What are the technical and social standards for smart city functionality?
To affirm Seoul's position as a global technology leader, the city established the strategic plan "Smart Seoul 2015" in 2011. The program highlights three phases including: 1) build up smart infrastructure in 2011-2012, 2) provide smart services in 2013-2014, and finally, 3) advance smart services by 2015. Ultimately, the game plan is to make Seoul the absolute best at utilizing smart technologies across the board. By 2015, smart device users in the city are expected to exceed 80 percent of the area's population, with 30 percent having a smart TV. To move fluidly with this development, Seoul aims to build smart environments where people can use free wifi anywhere at any time.
City officials are also planning to educate and care for communities that are often underserved when it comes to smart technology information. To support the initiative to improve smart infrastructure, Seoul began giving out second-hand smart devices to the elderly, the disabled, and low income families in 2012. The goal is to distribute 1 million smartphones or tablets by 2015. Seoul's proposed U-Health Care, designed to provide health check-ups and medical attention via high-end equipment and smart technology, will place the elderly and people with disabilities as a top priority.
Additional objectives rounding out Seoul's "smart" strategy include better online communication, more available civil administrative services, public safety and smarter information security. Can the world's smartest, most connected city hit all these marks? Let's check back in 2015.
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