"National competitiveness in the 21st Century is almost synonymous with the competitiveness of individual cities. A city's competitiveness is very much dependent on its ability to make adjustments to its economy and to be proactive in these efforts by establishing and implementing comprehensive development plans," said Ahn Sang-Soo, Mayor of Incheon Metropolitan City, at a Woodrow Wilson Center Director's Forum on February 4. The government of the Republic of Korea and Incheon, the country's third largest city, are in the midst of realizing an ambitious and awe-inspiring plan to ensure that Incheon becomes what Mayor Ahn believes a competitive city should be: "appealing, creative, energy saving, and eco-friendly."

Mayor Ahn's vision for making Incheon an appealing and creative city involves transforming it into what he terms a "Compact Smart City." The Compact Smart City is "a city in which all necessary facilities and institutions are located within the same town, providing residents and businesses with access to education, medical services, convention facilities, and shopping outlets within a distance of 30 to 40 minutes." According to Mayor Ahn, the needs of today are forcing the world's mega cities, such as New York City, to "transform themselves into compact cities."

The City of Incheon is not only striving to be the world's first Compact Smart City but also to ensure its success as South Korea's first Free Economic Zone. "The overriding goal of the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) is to promote national competitiveness by fostering information and business technology, education, medical services and tourism industries, thereby also creating a new economic growth impetus which will transform Incheon into the business hub of Northeast Asia," said Mayor Ahn. Incheon's potential of becoming a successful Free Economic Zone is notably high given its ideal geographic location, dedication of highly qualified labor force, and the strong support of the South Korean government.

Mayor Ahn also described the future Songdo International City as the crowning jewel of IFEZ. Songdo International City, which is being developed on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land along Incheon's waterfront, "is being fashioned into an international business hub, a knowledge and information industry complex, a high-tech cluster, and Songdo Landmark City." Songdo is to be the innovative home of the 68-story Northeast Asia Trade Tower, the Songdo Convensia convention center, Songdo Central Park, the Guggenheim Museum, a global university campus, Tomorrow City, and the 151-story Incheon Tower along with numerous offices, hotels, commercial enterprises, condominiums, and an observatory.

In his closing remarks, Mayor Ahn suggested that developing Compact Smart Cities may offer a solution to major global issues such as climate change and environmental degradation. He also emphasized the importance of bilateral collaboration between Korea and the United States in advancing global prosperity through the promotion of such ideals as the Compact Smart City.

Drafted by James F. Person, Sungeun Bae, and Kathleen Harrington
Christian F. Ostermann, Director, History and Public Policy Program