Skip to Content

How the city of Seoul is bringing the metaverse to life

22 Feb 2023

The metaverse has very real applications, and Seoul is one city on the path to prove it.

The Big Dig took 15 years and cost the people of Boston approximately $22 billion. All in all, 80 miles of tunnels were excavated under the city so that the main throughway could run under (rather than over) the port side of the city. As a result, the area is much nicer, and traffic has improved. But what about a city with no traffic at all? Impossible! No city on earth could pull that off. Unless… what if the city wasn’t – strictly speaking – on earth?

In Seoul, South Korea, the metaverse has begun to take hold as a new way for people to connect, interact, and experience the city – without standing in lines, waiting for buses, or even leaving home. What Seoul is building is other-worldly in its potential. And it looks a lot like the future.

A city that’s ready for the metaverse

South Koreans are famously devoted to gaming and virtual reality (VR), as seen through their televised gaming competitions and VR fun parks, where visitors participate in virtual reality battles, escape rooms and other games. The metaverse has also been the site of events and concerts. The K-Pop group BTS recently held a virtual concert in the metaverse, attended by fans from across the world. It’s no surprise that Seoul is aiming to become the first city in the world to deploy metaverse technology on a city-wide scale.

What might Seoul’s metaverse city look like?

The city’s five-year plan is taking aim at several areas, notably business, education, tourism and public services. A business services portal is already online, providing startups a place to reach the public. Eventually, the project will provide virtual coworking spaces that allow citizens to work remotely as if in a real office. The goal is not to create a virtual copy of the real world, but to build something even better, using the new capabilities the metaverse affords. Seoul smart city policy bureau CIO Jong-Soo Park gives one example: “We hope to one day have an AI-based public servant working in the metaverse office in close collaboration with others for public services.”

On the education front, a portal has linked 34 separate campus towns to provide coaching, collaboration and networking opportunities. Future courses may be led and attended entirely in the metaverse. Virtual tourism allow locals and international visitors to explore major sites, present and long gone. The tour will soon include Donuimun Gate – which last stood in 1915. Further down the road, authorities are working on the infrastructure to support the annual Seoul Lantern Festival, as well as museum exhibits. This year the Seoul government will open a virtual Mayor’s Office, in which public servants – as avatars – will provide consultations and everyday services with no lines, no crowds, and accessible to more people than ever before.

The road from physical city to metaverse city

For cities considering joining the metaverse, one aspect of Seoul’s project is worth noting – it’s compartmentalized. For cities that are not looking for a Seoul-sized commitment (700 companies are helping the city government carry out their metaverse plans), a piece-by-piece plan might be more attainable. New Jersey is using metaverse technology for one purpose – enabling citizens to visualize developments in the planning stage. New Zealand is using digital twins to help people see the expected effects of climate change. Plans such as these won’t revolutionize city life, but they’re a confident step in the right direction. And as Koreans say, “Rome wasn’t built in one morning.”

For urban planners, a midway point to the metaverse

Another way to look at the road to the metaverse is from the technological side. I’ve mentioned VR above; the second big step along the way is the digital twin. A digital twin is a representation of a physical asset or system that allows for real-time monitoring and analysis of the asset or system. Digital twins enable users to interact with these objects and systems as if they were in the real world. This can include everything from virtual cars and buildings to virtual machines and even entire cities. Alone, digital twins don’t make a metaverse. In the New Zealand example above, digital twins were built to imitate changes to our climate. But the people observing the twin are… well, people. With digital twins, you have real people standing outside a digital system, looking in – a midpoint along the way to the metaverse, where everything and everyone are represented digitally.

Digital twins will play a crucial role in helping to create a fully immersive and interactive virtual world. In the meantime, they’re already revolutionizing the way we interact with and experience the virtual world. They’re used to simulate and test changes to the physical world, allowing for more efficient and effective decision-making in the design and operation of complex systems. On a more human level, they’re also a powerful persuasion tool – demonstrating the potential of digital worlds in a simple, easy-to-understand way.

Building a city in the metaverse? First, build trust.

A second steppingstone towards a successful application of the metaverse is trust; trust in the virtual data that is needed to fully digitalize our own identities. The interest is already there – according to a recent survey by the Capgemini Research Institute, a majority of those surveyed believe immersive experiences would be “impactful and valuable” in the areas of education, healthcare and shopping, as well as other uses. That being said, for the metaverse to truly reflect the physical world, key items like personal identify, ownership and payments, users must trust the provider of these virtual services. Only once government departments have established virtual trust with their citizens, will they be receptive to metaverse applications.

So… is the metaverse the future of urban planning?

I work with digital technologies, including digital twins and metaverse. Whether at work or among friends, I’m asked two questions more than the rest combined: “is the metaverse all just hype,” and “what’s the point?” Seoul’s approach helps answer both questions. There’s a hailstorm of metaverse hype out there, but it’s easily distinguishable from the real work that cities like Seoul are undertaking. Seoul’s ambitions are concrete and appear achievable. However, today the metaverse is still in its very early stages. Governments that want to build their city in the metaverse and spearhead the implementation of this technology for the benefit of their citizens, need to invest in smart city concepts and work with the industry to improve public trust in data. Investments should be aimed at creating better digital twins with as many connected data sources as possible. There is also a need to invest in educating citizens on the use of different technologies used to access the metaverse. (Education includes VR parks, public art – anything that familiarizes people with the new tech.) Once citizens trust and feel comfortable with using VR, AR, AI and other technologies, the doors to the metaverse are ready to open.

40 years ago today, as I write this, the internet was born. January 1st, 1983. A decade and a half later, those who saw its potential were still a rare sight in public. Most technologies are invented to solve a clear problem, and we as a species are pretty good at understanding those. But there’s another type of innovation that lifts humanity up a step, delivering us someplace new. These are nearly impossible to wrap our heads around until the change is well underway. Is the metaverse such a creature? Let’s watch Seoul carefully, and be ready for whatever’s coming next.

Read more about real-life use cases for metaverse tech in TechnoVision for Public Sector, our yearly look at leading technological applications in the public sector space. For more information on metaverse and digital twin technologies, contact me at or have a look at our Metaverse Lab.