Instant Cities: Dubai and New Songdo City

Instant cities are created to promote global status and real estate development. They are places created from scratch, being constructed on a 10-20 year master plan range, and usually on quite a large scale. Dubai as a whole is one large instant city, comprised of several smaller instant cities, such as Festival City, Internet City, and the planned Waterfront City by OMA. New Songdo City in Incheon is comparable to one of Dubai’s smaller “cities”. Another characteristic of instant cities is that they are completely open to the western world, which is slightly paradoxical to the strong sense of nationalism these cities, or nation-states, are trying to preserve.

New Songdo set to be completed by 2014 and will be home to 65,000 people and house 300,000 jobs. The main goal of New Songdo is to entice multi-national firms to relocate in this new northeast Asian hub. Already, the financing for the project is multi-national, with 70% coming from Morgan Stanley and Gale International. It is designated to be a free economic zone, giving foreign companies relief from Korea’s high taxes. New Songdo will be part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone that was set up in 2003.  An Arup associate working on the project deemed New Songdo “’a comfort zone in a foreign land’ for Western Businesses”.[1]

Dubai has gone one step further than Incheon and opened its doors to non-nationals, allowing them to purchase freehold properties. Implemented back in 2002, it can be partially credited for the real estate boom. In 2006, the city passed a law confirming the right of non-nationals to own real estate in certain developments in the city and a surge of expatriates moved into freehold homes. Dubai already had lucrative development tactics installed, such as an expatriate-friendly environment, zero tax on personal and corporate income and low import duties since its initial growth in the mid 1900s.[2] This scheme quickly made it the business hub of the region.

The downfall to the real estate boom, spurred by the open market, is the increasing amount of unaffordable homes and apartments in the city along with a downtown full of expatriates with nationals living on the outskirts of the city.[3] New Songdo, and the entire Incheon Free Economic Zone, seem to be inter-referencing Dubai’s successful economic plan, without going as far as allowing non-nationals to purchase property or land. Dubai’s policies appear successful on the global stage but may have a negative impact on the national level in the future. Will New Songdo be ‘successful’ without completely opening its doors to foreign investors? The city plans to house 65,000 people and depending on national sales, the housing market could easily open up to non-nationals if the desire is as strong as it was in Dubai. This may be a question that cannot be answered until it has been functioning for a few years.

Instantly Recognizable Dubai

Soon to be Instantly Recognizable New Songdo


[1] Herbert Wright. Instant Cities. London: Black Dog Publishing Limited, 2008. 196.

[2] Samer Bagaeen. “Brand Dubai: The Instant City; or the Instantly Recognizable City.” 175-8.

[3] Samer Bagaeen, 180.

Works Cited

Bagaeen, Samer. “Brand Dubai: The Instant City; or the Instantly Recognizable City.” International Planning Studies. 12. 2 (2007): 173-197. Web.

Wright, Herbert. Instant Cities. London: Black Dog Publishing Limited, 2008.


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