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Although they may all look very different, the cities of the future share a new way of doing things, from sustainable buildings to walkable streets to energy-efficient infrastructure. While some are not yet complete – or even built – these five locations showcase the cutting edge of urban planning, both in developing new parts of an existing metropolitan area and building entirely new towns. By 2050, it is forecast that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. These endeavours may help determine the way we will live then, and in decades beyond.

Songdo, South Korea
Constructed 60km south of Seoul on land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea, Songdo is the world’s leading example of an aerotropolis, a city that has been built around the airport as opposed to the hub being consigned to the outskirts of town. Connected to Incheon International Airport by the 12km-long Incheon Bridge, Songdo is just an 80-minute flight from Shanghai and an hour and a half flight from Tokyo; it is designed to be a gateway to the rest of Asia for international corporations and their employees. At more than 50% complete, Songdo is on track to be one of the greenest cities in the world, with more than 40% of the city devoted to parkland, including the 100-acre Central Park. Songdo will also use radically less water and electricity than a traditional city of the same size and emit two-thirds less greenhouse gases. The UN recently announced that its Global Climate Fund will be based in a tower block built specifically for international agencies, and 500 employees and their families will move to Songdo, starting this year. The distance any resident has to walk or bike to a store, business or school has been carefully calculated, so that cars are not needed. By the time the city is finished in 2017, it will have 65,000 residents and 300,000 daily commuters, mainly from Incheon and Seoul.

While the general economic turndown affected South Korea’s entire housing market, sales are starting to recover, with 5% of Songdo housing set aside for expat and non-Korean purchasers, said Mary Lou DiNardo, a spokeswoman for the Songdo International Business District. “There are charming garden residences, sleek low-rise loft spaces in Songdo’s Canal Walk and state-of-the-art high-rise apartments and penthouses with views of the Yellow Sea and the Incheon Bridge,” DiNardo explained. All properties are sold as condominiums, and typically have three bedrooms, as is common in the Korean culture where one is for the parents, one for the kids and one for the grandparents. An apartment in the high-end towers Central Park I and II cost 373,000 and 386,000 Korean won per square foot respectively. Lofts along Canal Walk are around 700sqft to 1,000sqft and cost around 227,000 won per square foot.

Masdar City, United Arab Emirates
This gleaming example of sustainable urban living just 17km east of Abu Dhabi is currently more university and business campus than metropolis, but when Masdar City is complete in 2025, it will be home to 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters. The city’s master plan, designed by the architects Foster + Partners, put roads underground (and bans cars that use petrol), allowing for very narrow pedestrian streets that capture and funnel the breezes, aided and shaded by thick city walls, a technique Arab builders have used for centuries. The city’s modern elements come in the renewable energy and clean tech sources being developed at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, which currently houses 250 students on campus. The city is completely powered by renewable energy sources such as solar, and the buildings are being constructed with recycled materials, including steel and aluminium. Energy and potable water demands have been reduced by more than 50%, using a quarter of the energy of a conventional city the same size. “We are addressing social, economic and environmental sustainability and also making sure it’s affordable,” said Omar Zaafrani, communications manager for Masdar City.

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