AS more of Asia's population move to its cities, there is growing pressure on governments to quickly develop urban infrastructure such as housing, transportation and schools to meet the needs of city dwellers.
However, as some governments may not have sufficient resources to cope with the problems that result from rapid urbanisation - such as congestion and pollution - private sector players will have to play a part in delivering the solutions required.
Experts believe that urbanisation is one megatrend of the 21st century that will have a major impact on the global economy. Asia is the world's fastest urbanising region, with 64 per cent of its people expected to live in cities by 2050.
China's urban population alone has risen by more than 500 million people in the past three decades. By 2030, its cities are forecast to house around a billion people.
To cope with this wave, more investment needs to be made in transportation networks to reduce reliance on private vehicles; more high-rise homes need to be built to accommodate growing populations, and utilities and public services have to be developed to meet the needs of residents. Ensuring that development of such infrastructure is both disaster-resilient and sustainable is another key challenge.
"The forces of change that urbanisation brings are complex but one of the central focus for urban planners lies in striking a sustainable balance between driving economic growth and providing a good quality of life," says Miguel Ko, group CEO of Ascendas-Singbridge, a Singapore-based provider of sustainable urban solutions.
"There is also growing pressure on urban cities to make the best use of natural resources such as land, water, and energy while catering to growing consumption and waste management."
According to a report by consultants Ernst and Young (EY), policymakers and the private sector must undertake effective planning and attract sustained investment in infrastructure in order to harness the economic benefits of urbanisation.
"Effective policy responses to the challenges that cities face, including climate change and poverty, will be essential to making cities of the future competitive, sustainable and resilient," according to the report titled "Megatrends 2015: Making sense of a world in motion".
In Asia, such responses can already be seen in the urban planning strategies of countries such as China. Last year, the Chinese government released its "National New-Type Urbanisation Plan", which charted a vision for China's future by rationalising resource usage, harmonising society, and sustaining economic growth.
Besides looking at reforms to drive growth in new economic sectors such as e-commerce, new energy and infocomm technology (ICT), the plan also specifically mentions the need to strengthen the management and control of urban planning, accelerate the construction of green cities, and the implementation of air pollution control action plans to improve air quality.
Singapore has long been held up as a model for urban development around the world, and is particularly renowned for developing high quality affordable housing as well as infrastructure that has fuelled its economic progress. For instance, the Republic's industrial park infrastructure, airport and seaports have been recognised as being among the best in the world. By one estimate, the global urban planning market is worth US$3 trillion.
Singapore-based private sector players such as Ascendas-Singbridge and Surbana Jurong have parlayed their expertise at home into a key role helping countries in the region develop their infrastructure.
"Through our combined capabilities in upstream activities including feasibility studies, design and master planning, as well as downstream activities such as real estate and infrastructure development, facilities and estate management as well as property and fund investments, Ascendas-Singbridge offers a comprehensive end-to-end urban development value-chain based on Singapore's successful development experience," says Mr Ko.
He notes that the combined group is already witnessing some results from the successful collaboration of Singbridge as a master developer and Ascendas as a real estate developer in the Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC). The company is building basic infrastructure, public amenities and services in the 6.27 sq km Start-Up Area (SUA) of SSGKC.
Surbana Jurong, on the other hand, is the master planner for the Andhra Pradesh new capital city and surrounding region in India. The development plans for Andhra Pradesh include building logistics infrastructure such as ports and airports, basic utilities such as power, water and sanitation, as well as industrial parks to broaden the manufacturing base. With over 7,000 sq km of land use for the Andhra Pradesh capital region, the urbanisation is projected to impact a population of 49.4 million.
"We have built more than a million homes in Singapore, completed master plans for over 30 countries and developed 49 industrial parks around the world. Using Singapore as a showcase of our work, we are well placed to ride the urbanisation and infrastructure growth in Asia, Africa and beyond," says Jurong Surbana Group CEO Wong Heang Fine.
While urbanisation can fuel economic growth, experts say it also contributes to the depletion of global resources. Meanwhile, some of the effects of climate change - including rising sea levels around coastal cities and extreme weather events - will hit cities the hardest. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that seven million people died, or one in eight of total global deaths, as a result of air pollution exposure in 2012, a large proportion residing in urban areas.
"Local and national policy-makers, along with other important stakeholders, will need to work closely together to plan, build and govern more sustainable cities. 'Green' and 'smart' will become important features of the sustainable and competitive city," according to the EY report.
In Malaysia, the Ascendas-Singbridge's Nusajaya Tech Park project is designed to integrate nature into its blueprint. Besides ensuring easy access to common amenities within a 400-m radius, the park is strategically designed to reduce East-West oriented façade areas as well as to enable good natural ventilation and daylight. Low-maintenance LED street lamps, efficient light fittings, energy management and optimisation plans will further reduce energy consumption within the park.
Mr Ko believes that environmental and socially sound practices add to its competitive edge by driving it to be operationally efficient and economically sustainable. "We integrate urban planning with energy and water efficient features, creating innovating environments that are designed to seamlessly combine work, social, and cultural interactions within a vibrant work-live-play ecosystem."