Tue, May 25, 2010
Lifestyle > Travel

Brand new cities

2010-05-25 10:43:36 GMT2010-05-25 18:43:36 (Beijing Time)  Forbes

The Pearl in Qatar or Songdo in South Korea could be your next vacation spot.

BURLINGAME, Calif. -- As you plan your next big trip, centuries-old hot spots like Rome and Paris may come to mind. But if you've been there and done that, you might want to check out some new cities that have sprung up recently around the world.

One trip you may want to start saving up for now is a vacation to The Pearl in Qatar, a man-made island chain in the shape of a string of pearls, billed as the "Riviera Arabia." Situated in a lagoon just offshore of Qatar's capital city of Doha, this $2.5 billion project started development in 2003 and will eventually include luxury villa apartments, three 5-star hotels, beaches and marinas.

Though it won't be finished until 2013 or later, The Pearl already has a number of high-end retail shops and restaurants, and holds regular performances by artists like Spanish tenor Placido Domingo. And if, after visiting the islands, you find you just can't bear to leave, you may be in luck. The Pearl has a string of nine private islands that will go up for sale in the future--provided you can afford what will probably be exorbitant property prices.

For an experience with less gild and a lot more grit, visit Naypyidaw, the new capital of the Southeast Asian nation Myanmar, especially if you enjoy being part of a good mystery. No one knows exactly why the Myanmar government in 2005 suddenly relocated the capital 200 miles north to Naypyidaw from Yangon. Nor does anyone know the future plans for Naypyidaw, Burmese for "city of kings," or how many millions of dollars it must be costing the government to develop it.

But for the curious traveler, half the adventure of Naypyidaw is getting there--the capital is tucked away in a mountain jungle, an eight- to 10-hour drive along ox-cart roads. You can also claim bragging rights to having been to one of the more obscure capitals of the world, where few other travelers have gone before. There aren't many big tourist attractions in the city, but a couple of note are the zoological gardens, with hundreds of animals, including rare wallabies and white tigers, and the water park. The Myanmar government says Naypyidaw has an estimated 1 million residents, making it the country's third-largest city.

If you're looking for a new city somewhere in Northeast Asia, consider South Korea's new Songdo International Business District. When it is completed, likely in 2014, this $35 billion project will encompass 1,500 acres and house around 65,000 residents. In addition, Songdo will have an 18-hole championship golf course, which is scheduled to host the 2012 PGA Championship Tour, an art museum, an opera house and concert hall. Already completed is the 100-acre Central Park in the middle of the city, as well as a number of residential and commercial buildings.

Songdo is not only an entirely new city, it is also an example of an "eco-city," a term that describes the growing trend of new cities with plans focusing on sustainability, using smart technologies and strategic planning. Examples of Songdo's sustainability plans include an extensive public transportation system and a centralized waste disposable system that uses a series of pneumatic tubes.

Eco-cities like Songdo are more than just a nice idea; they are expected to yield important lessons for future human habitats. By 2050 nearly 70% of the world's population will live in cities, according to the Population Division of the United Nations' Department of Economic and Social Affairs. As cities become home to the majority of the world's population, Songdo and others will become important testing grounds for green technologies and new ways of city planning.

"The thinking is that by changing the way cities are designed--the size of the buildings and streets--we can fundamentally change the footprint of humans on the environment," says Karen Seto, an associate professor at Yale University in Urban Environment. She also notes that there is much to be gained from retrofitting old cities with new plans and technologies.

Other eco-city experts are excited about the new Masdar City, located just outside Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. One of the major goals of this ambitious $22 billion project, which broke ground in 2008, is to be a city with zero waste and zero carbon emissions. To that end, Masdar will feature many urban uses of green technologies. For instance, one of the solar technologies it is testing is called "concentrated solar power," a tracking system with mirrors and lenses that focus sunlight on water to heat it so that it can power steam generators. The new Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, developed with the help of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will also be home to research and development for sustainable technologies.

"The cities of the past didn't have to think about issues like climate change and energy volatility," says Warren Karlenzig, chief executive of urban consultancy Common Current and a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. But cities of the future can't afford to ignore such issues, says Karlenzig, especially given the ever-increasing population.

Meanwhile, many of these brand new cities will be completed or significantly developed within the next five to 10 years, when their implications for the future will be better understood.

Says Karlenzig: "By the end of this decade, we're really going to be seeing what these cities are like, how they operate and if they do make more sense than organically evolved cities."

(Oliver Chiang, Forbes.com)

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