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George Mason University

Skyscrapers? Check. Parks? Check. People? Still needed.

Skyscrapers? Check. Parks? Check. People? Still needed.

This city on the Yellow Sea seems to have it all: Gleaming skyscrapers, broad avenues, serene parks and new apartment buildings a short walk from restaurants, shopping, schools and public transportation.

Songdo though is short on at least one thing: people.

A little more than a decade ago, the city didn’t exist. Built on 1,500 acres of reclaimed marshland on South Korea’s west coast, Songdo is billed as an innovation in urban planning — a hub of commerce just 20 minutes from the country’s main airport, Incheon International.

“In a lot of ways, it’s the city Koreans want to show the world, in that it’s a clean,...

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