Smart tools to drive HDB town planning

From a location map that guides city planners on where best to locate eldercare centres, to a text mining tool that reflects the most pressing concerns of residents, the Housing Board (HDB) is making a new push towards incorporating technology in town planning efforts.

HDB chief executive Cheong Koon Hean outlined how the authority plans to create community-based and sustainable towns at the 2016 World Cities Summit Singapore (WCS) on Tuesday.

One of the tools she mentioned was the award-winning Integrated Planning and Analysis Platform (iPLAN) - an application designed to integrate spatial and textual data to better visualise areas for town planning.

"The iPLAN can produce a heat map showing where the elderly live and in what types of flats, so we can marry demographics and analyse it on the map base," Dr Cheong said.

"Based on this, the HDB planners can decide where to locate facilities for the seniors, according to where the elderly live."

The HDB also plans to use text-mining analytics which it developed in collaboration with the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

Dr Cheong shared that feedback in the form of complaints and e-mails allowed the HDB to understand the key issues that people are concerned with.

"Based on the type and number of e-mails received, we can see that younger and older people give very different feedback, and have different needs," Dr Cheong said.

"The younger people all want to collect the keys to their flat very easily. As such, we are going to move away from pre-specified appointment dates for key collection, and allow them to choose when to collect their keys. This is how the tool allows for the HDB to make more informed policy decisions."

Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for National Development, also highlighted the importance of technology and data analytics.

He urged urban leaders "to keep an open mind, embrace innovation while recognising basics, and be willing to work with different stakeholders in an integrated manner to address the challenges we face".

Urban planning and predictive systems are currently being used by the Urban Redevelopment Authority to understand the implications of different land use scenarios, and new predictive tools for city planning are also being tested locally.

Additionally, in collaboration with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's media lab, the Centre of Liveable Cities unveiled a first-of-its-kind city visualisation tool at the WCS.

CityScope currently showcases a prototype of the up-and-coming Jurong Gateway precinct, and will allow city planners to visualise the impact of putting up new buildings and community spaces in the area.

Mr Zhou Yimin, senior assistant director at the Centre for Liveable Cities, said: "CityScope allows city planners to quickly and intuitively understand the constraints and challenges of building within the parameters of an existing community.

"If there are plans to build a large hospital complex several kilometres from an MRT station, for instance, the system will show users the steps to take to make the complex accessible via public and private transport."

Dr Cheong added: "Data is excellent in helping in delivery of services, making things more efficient and optimal, but you have to sense how people feel. Sometimes the data may show you one thing but you may feel totally differently.

"Data analytics and these smart technologies are only an enabler. It gives more information for the policymaker, but you have to talk to people, I think that is key."

The four-day summit, held at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, ends today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'Smart tools to drive HDB town planning'. Print Edition | Subscribe