How Tencent Is Redefining Smart City Construction With Net City?

Net City Emerging As A Pioneering Cornerstone In Smart City Development

Recently, the much-talked Quayside project of Sidewalk Labs in Toronto was shut down. The project became “too difficult” due to the “unprecedented economic uncertainty in the world” brought by the coronavirus. Daniel L Doctoroff, the CEO of the company said in a blog post. 

This project was anticipated to set an example of a truly intelligent urban development. However, it will not be pursued any more. 

With this 12-acre project shut down, smart city development is not going to take a back step. As per recent estimates of PwC, the global smart cities market will exceed US$2.5 trillion by 2025. This will include smart solution providers accounting for US$987 billion of the market. And professional services in smart cities will be US$277 billion.

Earlier this year, we explored Toyota’s plans to build a 175-acre ‘Woven City” in the foothills of Mount Fuji. After Toyota, China’s largest internet firm Tencent is the latest private company to announce an innovative smart city construction. 

Have a look inside the new city claimed to be a master plan for humans and the environment’s needs.

About The Project 

Tencent is planning an interconnected smart city construction from ground up covering an area of two million square meters. The new city will be the size of Midtown Manhattan in New York City. And it will be built in the Dachawan port district of Shenzhen in China.

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Tencent’s Net City Model Aligning Man’s Needs With Nature

Tencent is the largest technology firm in China that’s a conglomerate behind WeChat and the popular QQ messaging service in the country.

This city cum campus named as ‘Net City’ is primarily being made for Tencent’s employees. The city will accommodate a population of over 80,000 people along a reclaimed land extending out into the Pearl River estuary. 

In the next few years, the current properties and leased spaces of the technology giant will not be able to meet its office needs. In 2019, the company organised an international design competition to develop a master plan for the 320-acre area. This site in Dachawan comprises a range of public amenities. 

NBBJ, the award-winning architect firm won this competition. It was selected due to its vision to design a city that puts the needs of humans and the environment at the forefront. 

The firm’s concept focuses on the integration of eco-friendly features similar to the campuses of tech giants in Silicon Valley. These include Google’s headquarters at Mountain View and Apple’s futuristic green campus. Both showcase organic gardens and lanes where their employees can use a bicycle to travel around the campus.

The Master Plan Of Removing Cars 

NBBJ won the international competition to design the city for its capability to rethink the car’s role in urban planning. 

The architect firm has proposed a design that minimises the use of cars as much as possible. Most of the area will remain ‘car-free’ with more space for bicyclists and pedestrians. The regular cars will have access only to some parts of the neighbourhood. And the plan will be designed to prevent “unnecessary traffic.”

As per NBBJ, cars will be allowed only in a small piece of land of the large site. It will construct roadways for cars in a manner to reduce their impact in terms of speed and noise. More importantly, the design will focus on how close the cars stay in the places where people gather. 

Further, the company explains that Net City’s master plan is human-centric. It will build a city where buildings, blocks and open spaces serve humans “without the distraction of motor vehicles and noise, pollution, and speed that comes with them.” 

Net City will feature a new Tencent building in its centre with living quarters. In addition, it will be home to residential areas with schools, retail spaces and other amenities that make working and living convenient for employees. 

Many individual buildings inside the campus will be designed by different architecture companies. These buildings will range from one to 30 floors in height. 

Mobility in the Net City will primarily revolve a “green corridor” designed around pedestrians, cycling, autonomous vehicles. And the entire mobility fabric will be woven into the rest of the area of the city through public transport, bike lanes and ferries.

Green Features 

Apparently, the elimination of cars is going to ease a lot of burden on the environment with low carbon emissions. But with the addition of green spaces, this sustainable impact will be twofold. 

Gardens, groves, wetlands, public recreation parks as well as grass-laden rooftops will be a priority. Solar panels will power buildings while environmental sensors will keep a check on the quality of the air and other factors. 

Roads for cars will be eliminated in some places. This is where it’s absolutely fine for people to walk two minutes longer to their public transport station. 

In this two-minute walking distance, people might see something inspiring. Something that connects them to nature and provides a sense of relaxation. On the way, you might also “meet a colleague you haven’t seen for a while”, as the lead architect Jonathan Ward says. 

This project is seen as the largest smart campus that will put the needs of people and the environment first.  And it is also being seen as the largest construction of the type for a tech company. 

The site is inside a high-tech hub of Shenzhen. Here, other major Chinese digital companies like Huawei and Baidu are also helping shape the country’s smart city initiatives. More specifically, they are working on digital transformation projects. These include the role of Artificial intelligence, 5G connectivity, big data, cloud computing and automation.  

However, Tencent’s campus will be unlike other tech giants. The Net City will have open spaces and commercial, transport and entertainment areas that will be open to the public. It will not be open just for the employees. 

Moreover, the Net City’s design is in line with China’s goals for the Sponge City initiative. This will comprise water collection on campus, run-off and flooding management. It will also support mangrove trees at the shoreline’s edge.

Why The Name Net City?

Apart from the eco-friendly focus, the Net City design involves the role of the internet. The city will be constructed from the bottom up to follow the distributed network of the internet itself. As NBBJ lead architect says, it will be “interconnected, integrated, organic, and welcoming.” And hence, this is the reason behind its name – Net City.

Today’s tech-driven world is enabling us to build highly integrated cities that bring “work, live, play closer together.” Net City follows suit and will encourage synergy for people. As Ward reports this fits in ideally with the collegial, collaborative culture of Tencent.

As the development of smart city projects reaches the next stage, concerns relating to data privacy arise. A host of smart city technologies such as sensors and cameras will be deployed. However, anything about data privacy is yet to come out.

The construction of Tencent’s Net City will start by the end of 2020. Reportedly, it will take approximately seven years to complete the project. 

How private technology companies can serve their employees by developing work, live and play environments in harmony? Net City is anticipated to set this example.

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