There’s a lot of Songdo still to be built, but even as it’s under continuing construction, there are signs that point to its becoming an important business and residential hub. Last fall, the United Nations selected the city as the home of its new Green Climate Fund agency. Initial estimates expect 500 employees and their families to move to Songdo.
While Songdo’s status as a sustainable city certainly helped in its successful bid to house the Green Climate Fund, so did its proximity to Incheon International Airport. “You land at the airport and there’s a convention center, a hotel, a golf course,” says Lindsay. “Business travelers already live out of conference hotels; now you’re seeing conference cities. You still go to Seoul if you have leisure time, but this is the hyper-efficient movement of people. This is taking the scale of business travel to the extreme.”
Airport as destination
If accessibility and efficiency are key to the business traveler, the aerotropolis’s impact is clear. In some instances, the effect on leisure travelers is equally, garishly obvious.
Across the bridge from Songdo, Incheon airport is building a massive playland to rival Macau and Las Vegas. The actual airport is already a shopper’s paradise. It’s the No. 1 duty-free airport in the world, with $1.53 billion in sales last year, and the halls are lined with 73 high-end stores, including the first Louis Vuitton airport shop.
I wander down the broad, brightly lit halls and study the stores-within-stores. Divided into categories, each massive shop includes several smaller markets inside. The cosmetics store is packed with counters for L’Occitane, Kiehl’s and Shiseido. The accessories store includes counters for Furla, London Fog, Burberry, Christian Dior and Chanel. There are floral scents, thick lotions, soft silks, rich leathers, bold colors, classic patterns. It’s luxury overload for every sense.
Outside the terminal, on the man-made island where it sits, development is underway on a mega-resort and casino, a water park, a shopping mall and several hotels. By the end of the decade, this new pleasure carnival will open and connect back to the airport by a magnetic levitation train that will make a 33-mile loop around the entire island.