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Building smarter

Bold new technologies are being employed by city planners to deal with the problems that come with rapid urbanisation.

"Through the use of Next Generation ICT, cloud computing and the Internet of Things, Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (above) aims to become a world-class city where residents can live, work and play in a safe and energy efficient environment." - Nina Yang, chief operating officer, Singbridge Group

AS more people move to cities, governments are looking for new solutions to deal with urban challenges such as overcrowding, congestion and pollution. By 2050, almost 70 per cent of the world's population will live in cities, up from 50 per cent today.

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 deal with the problems that will arise as cities get more crowded, urban planners are turning to sustainable "smart city" solutions that leverage technologies such as cloud computing and Internet of Things (IOT) to keep traffic flowing and keep a lid on energy use.

Driverless car systems, for instance, will use navigation systems to get you to your destination and guide you to a free parking space, reducing congestion and carbon emissions in the process.

Says Wim Elfrink, chief globalisation officer of Cisco, a global IT solutions provider: "What was once a visionary notion is now the new normal: technology is really as essential as the three utilities - water, gas, and electricity. If you want to revitalise an old city, or if you are erecting a new greenfield city, technology has to be built in.

"Today many leading cities have a 10-year plan that includes a master information and communication technology (ICT) plan. A city without an ICT master plan is simply not relevant anymore."

Singapore has taken the lead in this area, having unveiled a plan to become the world's first Smart Nation last year. Already, driverless buggies have been tested in the Lake District in Jurong and driverless vehicles were let loose on some routes in One North earlier this year.

Meanwhile, HDB is studying how to implement plug-and-play smart devices for households. Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is already building the network that will connect all these intelligent devices across the nation.

Many companies are also using Singapore as a "living laboratory" to test cutting edge urban technologies. IBM, for instance, established its Research Collaboratory for Smarter Cities in Singapore to develop advanced data analytics-based solutions, in partnership with government agencies responsible for water, energy and transport systems.

Leveraging their experience here, Singapore developers are also sharing their smart city expertise in projects abroad. For instance, Singbridge, in collaboration with IDA, developed the master plan Sino-Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City (SSGKC), which is set to become one of China's first smart cities. Singbridge merged with Ascendas earlier this year to form the Ascendas-Singbridge group.

Says Nina Yang, chief operating officer of Singbridge Group: "Through the use of Next Generation ICT, cloud computing and the Internet of Things, SSGKC aims to become a world-class city where residents can live, work and play in a safe and energy efficient environment."

SSGKC has established a partnership to explore collaborations on several smart initiatives, such as a Guangdong-Singapore cross-border card that enables convenient commute on public transportation and e-payment at retail and transit points in Guangdong and Singapore.

Another development in China, Tianjin Eco-City, is a joint project between the Chinese and Singapore governments to demonstrate sustainable urban solutions. Singapore agencies involved in the Tianjin Eco-city include the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Land Transport Authority (LTA), among others. Singapore's private-sector involvement is led by conglomerate Keppel Corporation.

Other countries in Asia are also looking to develop smart cities. In India, the government has announced its vision of developing 100 smart cities as satellite towns of larger cities and by modernising existing mid-sized cities.

Experts believe that as people adopt new technologies at ever-faster rates, smart solutions will soon become the norm in many urban centres, and have a significant impact on cities that implement them.

"The development of smart cities will have far-reaching outcomes and impact that contribute to the city's sustainable growth," says Mrs Yang. "Beyond infrastructure and real estate development, this includes impact on industry growth and transformation, jobs creation, knowledge and software transfer, as well as acquisition of skillsets for effective urban governance that are critical to the sustainability of urban environments."