Go to Top

Thoughts from an empty place

by: Red Constantino

It’s hard not to wonder about things taking place elsewhere. When the setting is Songdo, touted as an International Business District — “the business hub of Northeast Asia” no less, or even worse, “the first new sustainable city in the world designed to be an international business district“– we can expect the elements of daily life, during a big, politicized climate change-related convention, to be rather drab.

red_emptyspaceIt’s not surprising to feel a sense  of awe at the place, for the foresight of its planners, and the folly of their ambition.

It is evident that the people who planned out the development of Songdo, and its place in Korea, tried to project — to see — decades ahead, and they likely prepared a broad incentives structure designed to greatly reduce risks and pull in massive investments to support the Songdo idea, with large enterprises relocating operations and business centers in the wide sprawl.

Towers of glass and steel here abound, gleaming in the bright sunlight, matte blues mixing with the flat greys where skyscrapers merge with the horizon as a strange, almost monochromatic modernist skyline. At night, building blings come alive – strobe lights on rooftops, multicolored LED lights scurrying up and down the multiple floors, signs blinking, and fro afar, the hazy glow of coast-side ships docked near an offloading port.

And yet there are very few people here, no traffic at all encountered, because it looks like and feels like and is actually a new place. Even the trees here are newly planted, and few have taken root; some still look like shrubs. Most tree trunks still have cables attached to the ground to ensure nothing topples over. There is no public market; instead, there’s a big grocery. where at least there’s wet produce and fresh vegetables for sale, but still it’s inside a humongous mall. None of the famed Korean barbecue, with smoke billowing from hot grills. Mostly here are fusion restaurants, a bad sign often times of a place eager to show off that it’s world class, whatever that means.

The only animals seen so far are a couple of ants on the pavement. No birds or ground creatures sighted, no cats, no dogs. The city of Bonn feels like a thumping dynamic discotheque compared to Songdo.

And so one wonders how closely symbolic the choice of Songdo is in relation to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), whose headquarters is in G Tower — an angular tower, which looks like a pyramid has been chiseled out of its upper section, that is visible from the Convensia, where the 7th GCF Board meeting is taking place. The meeting’s aim? To mobilize resources urgently needed by communities facing the worsening impacts of climate change.

There is no ecosystem here other than the jungle of modern infrastructure, the feel of the power of finance — omnipresent and completely empty — and the polished sheen of dicombobulated commercial enterprise.

Was this the idea envisioned by the GCF’s founders?

Red Constantino is currently in Songdo, Korea as an advisor to the Philippine delegation to the GCF headed by GCF Board Co-Chair and Albay Gov. Jose Ma. Clemente Sarte Salceda.