Smart housing and urban development plans for Singapore

At the Urban Land Institute Asia Pacific Summit 2017 held in Singapore, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong delivered a keynote address on creating competitive and innovative cities.

Infrastructure planning

Mr Wong said that cities need to find a balance between two opposing goals. Cities need to be liveable and sustainable, with good public spaces, walkable streets and greenery. At the same time, cities need modern infrastructure – transportation, power, water systems to be competitive and to offer a quality living environment for people.

However, many cities have found it challenging to put good infrastructure in place. Some of these challenges include a NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) mind set, opposition from interest groups and budget constraints. As elected governments focus on deliverables within their term, long-term projects are not prioritised, and governments find it hard to justify projects with little, or no immediate economic returns.

“On some occasions, the new project proceeds, but the scope of the project is too narrow because the tendency is to go for the cheaper option just to get it financed, but there is not enough consideration for longer-term needs, or even other broader environmental and social factors. As a result, there may be sub-optimal outcomes, which may in the long-run become more expensive.” added Mr Wong.

Mr Wong emphasized the importance of taking a long-term view on future development. With only 700 square kilometres of land, every project in Singapore needs to be planned and scrutinized very carefully.

New urban development plans

Mr Wong discussed some of Singapore’s new urban development plans:

  • A new fifth airport terminal will double the capacity of Singapore’s airport.
  • A new Tuas terminal will double the capacity of Singapore’s seaports.
  • New transportation infrastructure is currently under construction. Singapore’s goal is to have 8 in 10 homes to be within 10 minutes’ walk of a railway station.
  • Central city ports will be consolidated in the west, freeing up space to expand the CBD area.
  • A new CBD area and high speed rail terminus will be built in Jurong Eas.t
  • A new cluster for advanced manufacturing and digital economies will be built in Woodlands.
  • A 24km stretch of disused railway line will be converted into a green linear park.

Mr Wong also added that Singapore has accumulated much expertise in infrastructure planning over the past 50 years of rapid urbanization, and can play a useful role as an infrastructure hub for Southeast Asia and the broader Asian region.

Smart Housing

Dr Cheong Koon Hean, CEO of the Housing & Development Board (HDB), shared some of Singapore’s development plans for smart housing estates. Smart technologies are currently being implemented in three living test beds, Yuhua, an old housing estate, Punggol, a new estate under construction, and Tengah, a greenfield site.

“For us, technology is only an enabler. Why do even want to be smart? It’s all about liveability and reliable estate services. We want to stretch the sustainability targets, and we want to meet residents changing meets,” explained Dr Cheong.

HDB will focus on four domains:

1. Smart Planning – Computer applications such as CAVI (City Application Visual Interface) will be used to help design and plan towns, understand demographics and optimize the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives.

2. Smart Environment – Estates will be linked with a network of sensors, which will capture real-time information such as temperature and humidity.

3. Smart Estate – Smart technology and sensors are embedded in facilities such as lighting, lifts, solar panels, water pumps and pneumatic waste systems. Information from sensors are collected and processed to enable predictive maintenance, reduce manpower and improve service reliability.

4. Smart Living – Digital infrastructure will be built in homes to enable communication with IoT devices. Applications include telehealth services, energy management systems and elderly monitoring systems.

HDB will also look at sociographics to understand needs and aspirations, and make use of persuasive technologies to nudge behaviour.

“At the end of the day, user acceptance is very important. We tried out some of the technologies, but the rate of user acceptance may not be as much as we like. Maybe people are not ready, maybe it is not friendly enough, that is where we need to do a lot of tests. The objective is to have a smart city without having the citizens to be smart. It should be so easy to use, it is second nature,” said Dr Cheong.

Author: Darvin Tocmo

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