Smart cities integrate information and communication technologies to address challenges faced by urban living. Arguably first pioneered by South Korea with the Songdo International Business District project, a masterplan city that began construction in 2002 with the reclamation of land along Incheon’s waterfront, the need to be “smart” has become a must-have in many of the new masterplan cities in Asia.

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the tremendous benefits of a smart city with high levels of digitisation in government and business. Some of the countries that have contained the virus most successfully across the globe include Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, all of which have some of the most advanced smart cities in the world. Singapore, for example, was one of the fastest to utilise the capabilities it had invested into its “Smart Nation Initiative” to tackling the pandemic, rolling out a nationwide QR code check-in system and a contact-tracing app named “TraceTogether”, the source code of which was later shared with Australia for the country’s “COVIDSafe” application.

The greenfield masterplan smart cities in Asia, however, will mostly be found in developing countries, where the aim is to create new economic and administrative centres to drive growth for the rest of the century and beyond.

“Nagara Rimba Nusa”, Indonesia

Budget: US$33 billion

Timeline: 2021 – 2045

The current capital, Jakarta, located on the island of Java, is sinking. Facing the dual threat of rising sea levels and being built on swampy land, almost half of the city now sits below sea level. The new capital is to be located on in East Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, straddling two relatively undeveloped regions of Kutai Kertanegara and Penajam Paser Utara. In Borneo, the new capital city may promote stronger economic ties with Malaysia and Brunei, who share the island.

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A design contest for the new capital city was launched and the submission by architecture firm URBAN+ beat out 755 other contestants with their entry titled “Nagara Rimba Nusa”, which translates to “forest and island hilltop”. The design will not be used as the sole basis for the new capital city, nor is the name of the submission the final name of the new capital city. To be built with eco-friendly and smart city features, construction of the new capital city is slated to commence in 2021, in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic.

New Clark City, Philippines

Budget: US$14 million (Phase I only) 5

Timeline: 2016 – 2020 (Phase I), 2065 projected completion

Located in Central Luzon, north of Manila, New Clark City is envisioned as Philippines’ first smart, green and disaster-resilient metropolis. Managed by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) that is mandated to transform former US military bases for civilian use, New Clark City is sited on the former Camp O’Donnell. The city is envisioned as the alternative to Manila’s pollution and congestion, while boasting driverless cars, drones and eco-friendly buildings.

New Clark City has been proposed, with the support of the BCDA, in the Senate as the Philippines’ new capital by 2030. The city is already formally declared by President Duterte as the “back up” seat of government in the event of emergencies and disasters.

Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), India

Budget: US$72 billion

The DMIC is one of 5 industrial corridors under National Industrial Corridor Development Programme (NICDP). Under what is touted as India’s most ambitious infrastructure programme, the NICDP is an extension of the DMIC, which originally began as joint project between Japan and India.

The DMIC came about when supplies of iron ore to Japan were disrupted due to Chinese demand in from construction projects in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was then that the idea of building an industrial corridor along the lines of the Tokyo – Osaka Freight corridor was proposed by the serving Japanese Ambassador to help meet the demand.

Under the plan, eight smart cities will be built along the DMIC, of which two are Dholera SIR and Shendra-Bidkin. The project also buttresses with India’s Smart Cities Mission, launched in 2015, that initially aimed for 100 smart cities in five years.

More smart cities to come

The cities listed are certainly not exhaustive. Especially in Southeast Asia, the indomitable drive towards digitisation has led to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to launch the ASEAN Smart Cities Network (ASCN) to promote best practices and cross border exchanges for the development of smart cities.

It is not just land developers that can benefit from participation, but also telecom and IT firms that can stand to profit by inventing innovative use cases for business and government applications.