The Challenge and Opportunity of Digitally Native Cities

This post is part of our Thriving Cities discussion series, following the sixth edition of the NewCities Summit in Incheon Songdo, South Korea in June 2017.

Decision makers and builders from greenfield cities across several continents took to the stage together to discuss the future for the world’s newest cities. The panel, moderated by Caspar Herzberg, President of the Middle East & Africa Region for Schneider Electric and, recently, author of Smart Cities, Digital Nations, focused on how technological innovation is at the heart of each city.

The Regional CEO of Palava City, India, Shaishav Dharia, described his city as an extension of Mumbai. For Palava City, Dharia looks to the long-term: “My approach to designing a city is simple – I keep in mind that I have to run it for a long time.’’

Karl Gheysen, former CEO of KTZE – Khorgos Gateway, introduced Khorgos, a greenfield city on the border of Kazakhstan and China, strategically located along the so-called New Silk Road as the city is a physical gateway between Asia and Europe. Khorgos will also be built on a foundation of digital connectivity, poised to become a “smart Eurasian city.’’

Chan-Kun Han, CEO of POSCO Engineering and Construction – the development firm behind Songdo – called Incheon “the gate city of Korea.’’ Songdo became Incheon’s project and its smart future. After POSCO’s construction, the greatest challenge was how to encourage people to move to the city permanently. He explained how parks, entertainment facilities and, especially,
educational facilities were built to attract people to Songdo.

While Egypt is known for some of the world’s most ancient structures, the greenfield city of Egypt New Capital is being built with the intention to relieve some of the pressure on Cairo, one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Ayman Ismail Soliman, Chairman of Egypt New Capital, said the city is being built out of necessity as it will also be home to some government facilities freeing up valuable space in the capital’s heritage buildings. Meanwhile, Cairo’s rich past is also of great value for Egypt New Capital, with the attraction of history giving the development a competitive edge against other new cities.

Preston Mendenhall is Head of Corporate Affairs at Rendeavour, the organization behind seven city-scale developments in Sub-Saharan Africa. “We view Africa as what Asia was 40 years ago,” Mendenhall said. With rapid urbanization, there is great demand for urban space across Africa. Meanwhile, there is also the opportunity to leapfrog technologies, as has been the case with mobile alternatives that allowed many to skip steps such as landline telephones or traditional banking.
There are a number of factors shaping today’s cities, yet Gheysen concluded the panel with the important reminder: “It is always about people. For all of the excitement around technological innovation and building smarter, the bottom line must be that cities are created for and by people.’’