Urbanization in Singapore.  Making small more livable

Urbanization in Singapore. Making small more livable

Post ID: 40693 | POSTED ON: May 31, 2014

Singapore – Khoo Teng Chye is currently the Executive Director for the Centre for Liveable Cities, Ministry of National Development, Singapore.

Khoo is the Chairman of Singapore International Water Week Pte Ltd, and sits on the Boards of Tropical Marine Science Institute of National University of Singapore, GDF Suez’s Urban Strategy Council, the Advisory Board of the World Future Foundation, the Advisory Committee for the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, the Advisory Panel of NUSDeltares, and the Advisory Group of Singapore Management University’s Master of Tri-Sector Collaboration (MTSC) Programme. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the NTU and at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

He was formerly the Chief Executive of PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, Chief Executive Officer/Chief Planner at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Chief Executive Officer/Group President of PSA Corporation, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mapletree Investments and Managing Director (Special Projects) of Temasek Holdings. He also holds a Master of Science in Construction Engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the National University of Singapore.


Given the small land size of Singapore, what are the main urban obstacles facing the citizens?

It is because of Singapore’s small land size that we’ve had to reconcile liveability, environmental sustainability, and economic competitiveness more so than many other cities, even as urban density increases with population growth. As a city-state, Singapore has limited resources. The scarcity of land has been and will continue to be a challenge we face, both for our citizens and the government. The small land area is related to other urban challenges such as traffic congestion and maintaining a liveable environment with adequate greenery and a sense of space.

The challenge of balancing economic and population growth with liveability and sustainability is multi-faceted. Besides policy and technology innovations, the key is for all stakeholders to work together – government, businesses and the people to engage in positive interactions and collaborate on all fronts in order to overcome the urban obstacles.

As many cities globally face increasing urban density, Singapore’s experience in ensuring a liveable and sustainable environment in spite of our population density is very relevant. At the same time, Singapore has much to learn from other cities. This is why platforms such as the World Cities Summit play a crucial role in facilitating necessary sharing and learning. The World Cities Summit from June 1-4 will have more than 130 mayors and city leaders gathering in Singapore, along with thousands of experts and practitioners in the urban solutions industry to share best practices for overcoming urban challenges.


What is the biggest urban issue facing Singapore in the future and how do you plan to address it?

The biggest urban issue facing Singapore is its land constraint, which exacerbates other challenges such as transport and housing provision. Our limited land is one of the factors that contribute to our high density and Singapore has to manage its urban environment and achieve better liveability in spite of it. Urban density is a challenge not just for Singapore but for many cities around the world as the global urban population increases at an accelerated pace.

To overcome our land constraints, Singapore needs to continue to think long term in our planning and development. For example, to consider the industries that Singapore needs for economic growth and competitiveness but do not require huge land areas. We also need to innovate systematically, instead of leaving it to luck or chance. Technology innovations will provide solutions that we can customise to our needs, such as underground developments for residential purposes in land-scarce Singapore. The key to address our urban challenges is to work collaboratively across government departments and to actively engage both the private and people sectors to implement effective solutions.


What are "integrated" urban solutions?

Before we consider integrated urban solutions, we need to consider integrated master planning and development, which addresses the need to optimise planning decisions such that the outcomes for the environment, economy and quality of life can be balanced, especially with competing demands for limited resources. This means collaboration across different sectors and government departments in order to ensure successful implementation of integrated urban solutions.

Cities around the world are now beginning to re-examine their approach to the challenge of rapid urban growth and taking a more holistic view towards sustainable urban development with integrated solutions rather than implementing separate solutions to meet the many needs of the city. Singapore’s unique systems approach to city planning is being adopted by emerging cities in China, such as the Tianjin Eco-City, and other parts of the world. Cities with long histories such as New York City, Copenhagen and London have also taken an integrated approach to revitalising their cities to ready themselves for the future.

Given Singapore’s experience in integrated planning and successful implementation to achieve sustainable development in the last 50 years – based on a high density, high liveability model – it is well-placed to lead the discourse on adopting a more holistic approach to meet the rising challenges of urbanisation. For this reason, Singapore organises the World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and Clean-Enviro Summit Singapore to enable public and private sector players across the urban planning, water and environment sectors to network, tap on global expertise and share best practices.


What makes Singapore liveable?

Singapore has always adopted a long-term and integrated approach to ensure that it develops in a sustainable manner within a clean and green environment.

Under the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint released in 2009, Singapore had set aside S$1 billion (US$714.4 million) over five years to help create a greener, more energy efficient and sustainable Singapore, influencing the way Singaporeans live and the way businesses run. The Sustainable Singapore Blueprint is currently being reviewed and updated. Some targets Singapore hopes to achieve by 2030 include:

  • having 80 per cent of all buildings – including existing ones – achieve the Green Mark Certified rating (a green building rating system to evaluate a building for its environmental impact and performance).
  • having a 35 per cent improvement in energy efficiency from 2005 levels
  • having 70 percent of all journeys made to be via public transport

Through integrated planning and collaboration across various government departments, much has been achieved to enhance Singapore’s liveability. For example, we pioneered the Park Connector Network and ABC (Active, Beautiful, Clean) Waters Programme which has improved the quality of life for residents by transforming slivers of urban space along streets and canals through careful design and management. This has bolstered our city greening efforts, urban biodiversity, and recreational options for people.


How environmentally proactive is Singapore?

Sustainable development is a necessity and not a choice in Singapore given our limited land and resources. Sustainability goals have helped us to ensure that while our city and population grow, Singapore continues to deliver a high quality of living to its residents. This has been a priority for Singapore since the early days of nation-building.

A clear example is the green cover in Singapore which grew from 36% to 47% between 1986 and 2007 despite a 68% growth in population during the same period. In other words, we achieved population and economic growth in tandem with, and not at the expense of, improvements to our living environment.

In recent years, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has been working with partner agencies to enhance the sustainability performance of new growth areas in Marina Bay and Jurong Lake District. For example, to encourage the use of public transport, all developments in Marina Bay and Jurong Lake District will be seamlessly linked to the MRT stations via a series of underground pedestrian links and elevated walkways, providing direct and convenient access for commuters. To encourage carbon emission-free travel, walking and cycling will also be encouraged with the provision of a comprehensive network of pedestrian walkways, promenades and cycling paths.

A Landscape Replacement policy has also been introduced to these two areas to ensure the greenery lost from the site area taken up by buildings will be replaced. Hence, all new developments in these two areas have been required to provide landscaped areas on the upper levels of the development in the form of sky terraces, landscaped terraces and roof gardens. Besides enhancing greenery on all levels, this also helps to lower the urban heat island effect and reduce the demand for air-conditioning.

In addition to policy innovations, Singapore has also designated large-scale platforms for the test-bedding of innovative urban solutions. For example, Punggol Eco-Town was developed as a ‘living laboratory’ to test new ideas and technologies in sustainable development, integrating urban solutions to create a green living environment. Green technologies and urban solutions being tested focus on the areas of energy, waste and water management.


Which is more beneficial to Singapore — public or private money?

Both are equally necessary. There is growing recognition that in order to effectively meet the challenges of rising urbanization, it is no longer sufficient for governments alone to drive economic growth and ensure urban development in a sustainable manner. Singapore has always worked collaboratively with the private sector in developing the city state.

Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) are a tool for balancing public finances by delegating projects to the private sector for implementation, but the government must maintain oversight and play a larger regulatory role to ensure the success of such PPP projects. The key is in getting the ideal balance of financial feasibility, socio-economic and environmental cost-benefit and sustainability considerations.  This is a topic that will be discussed at length under “Innovations in Urban Financing” at the World Cities Summit from June 1-4, 2014.

If you could think of any "dream" urban project, what would you like to see constructed?

As we move toward the next decade and beyond, there are many uncertainties and changes to grapple with. Our population demographics will change, and in particular the general population will be aging. The global economy will evolve with the rise and fall of industries that Singapore will have to adapt to quickly in order to stay economically competitive and ensure good jobs for our people.  We also have to consider the effects of climate change on our natural and urban environment. These are just a few examples to illustrate the complexities that Singapore, and many other cities, will face in the future. Singapore itself is a “dream” urban project, and I would like to see Singapore’s liveability maintained, or even improved, in spite of future challenges.



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