Smart Cities and Bright Locations

by Daniel Nunez Gonzalez

Smart cities expect to reshape the urban experience. The “cloud” will improve the coordination of resources to operate more effectively, reducing pollution and commuting times, and create a stimulating environment for the development of new ideas and technologies. Currently built all over the  world, from Korea to the Middle East, developers in China are envisioning them and councils in Europe are turning to smart cities for differentiation.

Smart cities are ultimately a product of globalization. Corporations,  politicians and planners expect to attract the best and the brightest from all over the world to work in their state-of-the-art office buildings and live in their zero energy sustainable housing. But can smart cities attract this global workforce by themselves, or do they need something else?

Kangbashi New District, commonly known as Ordos, was envisioned in 2003 by the Inner Mongolian autonomous government in China, in order to house one million people. Ordos is in proximity to abundant natural resources like natural gas and coal. The local government invited 100 international  architectural teams to design 100 unique villas, and commissioned MAD Architects [1], China’s most internationally recognized design office, for its Art Museum, opened in 2011. For Ma Yansong, principal architect in charge of the museum, “when we got to the site, it was like the middle of nowhere” [2]. Located 450 miles from Beijing and 170 to Hohhot, the capital of the region, Ordos remains largely unoccupied in fast-urbanizing China [3]. Ordos suffers from cold and very dry winters and hot humid summers, and strong winds, especially in spring.

Milton Keynes was created by the British government in 1967 as one of the “New Towns” to solve the housing shortage in Southern England. Milton Keynes has turned to be a success, expanding rapidly to a population of 248,800. The town is home to the British headquarters of Santander,  Mercedes-Benz and the Open University (Britain’s online public university). For Geoff Snelson, director of strategy and partnerships for Milton Keynes council, “Location is critical” for its growth and development. “The town was deliberately planned to be equidistant from London, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge” [4]. Situated in the heart of Buckinghamshire, the wealthiest area in the country outside of London and home to some of the most scenic landscapes in England such as the Chiltern Hills, leafy Milton Keynes is located only 40 minutes away by suburban train to Central London, 25 miles to Luton Airport and roughly 1 hour by car to Heathrow.

How is location important to smart cities? Can smart cities attract this competitive workforce without the appeal of a dull global city behind? Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is in the suburbs of the United Arab Emirates’ capital, conveniently located next to Abu Dhabi International Airport. Songdo in South Korea is handily situated between Seoul and Korea’s major hub, Incheon Airport, to which is linked by a new $1.4-billion, 22-kilometer cable bridge [5]. At first glance, King Abdullah Economic City in Saudi Arabia might seem to be in the middle of the desert, but it takes advantage of its prime Red Sea location and the proximity to Jeddah, considered the most cosmopolitan city in the conservative Kingdom; and its airport, the country’s busiest.

Past experience and current developments seem to point that location and  proximity to a major global city and the access to its infrastructures is a fundamental factor for the success of  new cities that envisage competing globally.
[2] Murphy, D. “Ordos Museum”, available at: Last accessed
February 7, 2013.
[3] Barboza, D, “Chinese City Has Many Buildings, but Few People”, The New York Times, first published October 19, 2010. Available at: Last accessed February 7, 2013.
[4] Cole, G. “Milton Keynes: success is built on prime location”, Financial Times, first published September 21, 2010. Available at: Last accessed February 7, 2013.