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Gov’t outlines bold plan for Sejong, Busan smart cities

July 23,2018
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Neighborhoods in Sejong and Busan are set to undergo complete makeovers to become Korea’s first “smart cities” by 2021.

The Presidential Committee on the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced their basic plans for the two cities on July 16.

Sejong 5-1 Smart City District, covering 2.74 square kilometers (677 acres) in the northeast of Sejong, will be a “shared car-based city.” Personal vehicles will be forbidden in the new area - people will have to park their car outside the district before entering - and self-driving cars, shared cars and bicycles will be offered as alternatives.

The blueprint depicts Sejong Smart City as a technological hub where people can make payments with “Sejong Coins,” a cryptocurrency using blockchain technology, and receive products delivered by drones. Drones will also be dispatched to accident scenes in an emergency to swiftly transmit video footage to ambulances and hospitals.

The plans for an “Eco-Delta City,” which will be constructed on a 2.19-square-kilometer area of Gangseo District in the northeast of Busan, call for an environmentally-friendly city centered around water-based technology.

Buildings, such as waterfront cafes, will be placed by the city canal, and smart water management technology will be introduced. The entire water supply process will be managed remotely through a smart water system, enabling people to access clean, purified water just by turning on the tap. New renewable energy, such as hydropower and energy management systems, will be implemented as well.

While the smart cities are set to be established by 2021, it is uncertain whether the plans will be carried out exactly like the blueprints due to realistic constraints. For example, regulations currently prohibit the driving of autonomous cars on roads and the transportation of passengers via non-taxi private vehicles outside of commuting hours. In other words, it is currently impossible to travel by self-driving car or shared vehicle.

It is also illegal under current aviation laws for drones to fly beyond a pilots’ field of view.

The government said it will consider introducing a “regulatory sandbox” that permits temporary technology and services that are not permitted under current laws. However, the revised act on smart city creation and industry promotion has already passed the National Assembly’s Land, Infrastructure and Transport Committee in May and is pending the judiciary committee’s approval.

“The bill on self-driving cars and shared vehicles will likely fail to pass due to opposition from interested parties such as the taxi industry,” said Kim Sung-ok, a researcher at the Korea Information Society Development Institute.

Concerns over security and safety also need to be addressed. In March, a self-driving car run by Uber, a U.S. car sharing company, killed a pedestrian on an experimental run.

“Making self-driving cars and drones a part of everyday life presents issues on safety and security, and thorough examination is necessary,” said Kim Chan-ho, a professor of urban systems engineering at Chung-Ang University.

Budget concerns need to be resolved as well. The government has earmarked 700 billion won ($618 million) in basic project fees from the Korea Land & Housing Corporation for Sejong and 1 trillion won from the Korea Water Resources Corporation for Busan.

“We are discussing the amount of government budget support with the Ministry of Strategy and Finance,” a ministry official said. “We won’t be able to present an outline for how private companies can invest in the project until the end of this year.”

In other words, the total budget, including private and government investment, has not yet been calculated.

Another challenge is to resolve distrust in the industry. Poolus, a Korean carpool app, launched its company with confidence in the government’s promise to remove regulations preventing carpooling and ended up losing 70 percent of its employees due to regulatory barriers.

“Because it’s difficult to predict market situations or upcoming technologies in IT, the government should listen to citizens’ voices and opinions instead of trying to single-handedly take the lead and manage projects like these,” said a start-up insider.

BY KIM KYUNG-JIN [ebusiness@joongang.co.kr]