City Story

From an expert’s point of view, A tale of two cities: Songdo and Sydney

The beauty of looking different according to the light and wind. The sound of clear and fresh flowing water. The totalistic amenities of water enriching life. These make up why, in the old stories of cities, water has its own locality and historical properties.


Written by Professor Nahm Kee Bom
Department of Urban Sociology, University of Seoul

The roles of water in making cities grow

The space in a city touched with water, i.e. the sea, rivers, lakes, and canals, forms the “waterfront.” Spaces formerly used as ports, warehouses, and factories go through reproduction processes and are reborn as centers for culture and leisure. However diverse the idealistic cities human beings may have dreamed of since inventing urban centers and settling into the Neolithic Era, the penetrating topics that persist over time share a similar context. It is a “live-work-play” space. In the age of modernism, efficiency was reinforced by spatial divisions based on time and separation between the public and the private. The age of post-modernism is characterized by chronological and spatial integration and multi-use of complex spaces. An example of a place optimized for the contemporary age is a waterfront city.
In the 1980s, Sidney led a culture-oriented urban recreation project under the slogan “Lets return the industrial area, Darling Harbour, to the citizens.” Using this water-friendly space as the background, the city planned to build new facilities where former wharf facilities had been destroyed. Sidneys waterfront successfully formed the roots for citizens cultural activities and everyday life. Connecting Darling Harbour-Harbour Bridge-Circular Quay-Opera House, the Sidney waterfront heightened the quality of life and elevated the citys international image. The waterfront made contributions to positioning Sidney at the uppermost rank for good-to-live-in cities, according to various world city indicators.

A waterfront embraced by the citizens

There are many cases in which waterfronts have been returned to the citizens from their previous use as an industrial space to become part of urban recreation. However, Sidneys experiences pose particular significance for Songdo. Songdo is an island surrounded by the sea — a typical waterfront city. With its sophisticated infrastructure, the city provides citizens with enriched living. But it is not just based on geographical reasons that Songdo remains attached to the sea: the citys diverse spaces and activities are all connected with water. The future of Songdo must be to develop a multi-level interpretation of its relations with water into a waterfront city by utilizing water resources throughout the entire cycle of creation-production-distribution-consumption.
The waterfront can be meaningful when it is not privately owned but offers large open spaces for the city and all its citizens to share. The hope is that waterfront development plans can recreate the whole city of Songdo as a water-friendly space and as the ‘City of Water to be returned to citizens and recreated as a space for creative industries. After all, it is inclusive practice in the lives of citizens that forms better community living.

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