Cities are the bustling hubs of concentrated human activity. The ongoing trend of urbanisation is not only creating larger cities, it is making conurbations that are managed in new and innovative ways. This is especially true in Asia, where the urban population is expected to grow by 340 million people over the next 15 years1 - a development that will require massive investments in both hard and soft infrastructure.

    The city of the future was the subject of a panel discussion at HSBC’s Asia Day in Singapore, which assembled experts to give different perspectives on how the urban centres we live in will evolve over the coming years.

    “Every city faces the same range of problems, but of course they tackle them in different ways depending on their context and size,” said Yvonne Lim, Group Director (Physical Planning) at Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, who highlighted a number of ways that cities across the world have developed innovative solutions to manage their development.

    She highlighted Sydney’s long-term plan to change its physical structure and transportation networks by creating so-called “30-Minute Cities” that will allow residents to live closer to their places of work. Seoul is a good example of how a city can use technology to provide the city’s mayor with a comprehensive set of urban indicators – from real estate prices to air quality. New York is also preparing for the impact of climate change by creating the infrastructure to protect buildings and communities that could be hit by coastal flooding.

    Moving closer to home, she explained several aspects of Singapore’s recently launched Draft Master Plan 2019 to improve liveability and ensure good access to city services. Singapore planners will use data analytics to examine changes in demographic trends and the usage of facilities to make sure that they match the needs of the local population. This information can then be used to guide the placement of new facilities where they are needed most, but also to repurpose existing facilities as needed – such as by turning childcare centres into senior care facilities as town residents age.

    Singapore’s limited space is also addressed in the plan. The city will be relocating core pieces of infrastructure away from the central areas so that the land can be repurposed as living space. The relocation of Paya Lebar Airbase will free up new land for a new housing town and commercial areas, while the consolidation of downtown port terminals at Tuas will provide a natural expansion site just next to the existing city centre for living and other uses. “We want to ensure that we have the room to grow going forward,” said Ms. Lim.

    A digital living environment

    Managed correctly, the rise in a city’s population can make it economically and culturally vibrant. “But people moving to cities can also put a lot strain at the city planning level, add pressure to the existing infrastructure, and negatively affect the people already living there,” said Paul Kent, Partner, Infrastructure and Projects, Deal Advisory at KPMG in Singapore.

    He described how these pressures are forcing city planners to take advantage of cutting-edge technology to ensure that expansion is a benefit to the local population. Data collection and analysis for example, can be enhanced by APIs that allow for the information to be shared in a standardised way, while blockchain can be used for record keeping. Sustainability is another area that will be integral to the development of future cities, as electric vehicles and energy-efficient buildings become more prevalent.

    “Technology is only part of the solution,” said Mr. Kent. “It cannot work in isolation. And if you try to put it in place without considering a wide range of related factors, it will not be able to deliver the results you are looking for.”

    These factors include the level of governance, which will support the use of technology that is both sustainable and long lasting. A related issue is financial feasibility, which makes sure that the costs are in line with the city’s economic capabilities. The quality of the local workforce is also important. A city might use sensor technology to collect a broad range of data, but it is of limited use without enough data scientists to analyse it.

    Measuring success

    “Innovation and talent are key to a city’s performance, both in economic and real estate terms,” said Megan Walters, Head of Research, Asia Pacific at JLL, who presented research that measures cities according to these two key metrics. And in terms of innovation, Asia is at the forefront, with three of the region’s city’s appearing in the top five – namely, Tokyo, Singapore and Beijing.

    Dr Walters said it was essential for a ranking system to use objective measures. For innovation, JLL looks at factors such as investment into high-tech industries, the number of patents awarded, and the money spent on research and development. And to assess the local level of talent, they examine the education level of the population, demographics, and the number of people working in high-tech sectors.

    Looking to the future, many Asian cities will become significant concentrations of talent. One key measure of high-value workforce is the proportion of population from 20 to 40 years old. Asia Pacific dominates this measure, with 60 per cent of Shenzhen’s population within the young age demographic, double the global average. India also performs extremely well on this measure, with seven of its cities among the top ten in the world – including Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai.

    “When you talk about talent in the future, Asia scores very highly,” said Dr Walters. “Over the last twenty years of my career, a lot of the focus has been on China. Over the next twenty years, there will be strong growth in talent in India.”


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