World Economic Forum on Asean

People must be at the centre of smart city planning, say experts

Senior Minister of State for Transport, and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said on Wednesday at a Designing Cities 4.0 session that any smart project must lead to new opportunities.
Senior Minister of State for Transport, and Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said on Wednesday at a Designing Cities 4.0 session that any smart project must lead to new opportunities.PHOTO: WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

HANOI • Technology can transform cities, but planning should revolve around the lives of people in the cities, said panellists at a session on Designing Cities 4.0 at the World Economic Forum on Asean.

The diverse group of speakers from different parts of the region - who included a minister, a government official and private-sector participants - discussed ways to build smart cities in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The focus on building smart cities has gained in significance in recent years, with the increasing ease and affordability of using technology. Yet, as city leaders speed to build their own digitally powered cities, there are concerns that such cities could increase inequity within societies.

The emphasis on using technology to increase opportunities and improve efficiencies in public services is noteworthy, but city designers and architects need to ensure their cities are inclusive and have enough social space for human interactions, the speakers said on Wednesday.

Singapore has had a very aggressive approach towards redesigning the economy throughout its history - both the physical na-ture as well as opportunities for people, said Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Transport, and Communications and Information. "And every five or seven years, we have had to think about where we need to intervene, what space we need to intervene in," he said.

Building a smart nation is part of the current wave because of the impact that technology can have. And any project must lead to new opportunities and capabilities. Simply digitising businesses would not work, he noted.

"Smart then needs to be trans-formative... It needs to generate a new set of opportunities, it needs to generate jobs, it needs to generate real-world outcomes on the basis of today's assess-ment, and it needs to create op-portunity for change," Dr Janil told the audience.

It must also be 100 per cent inclusive, he said, because "people who benefit are living cheek by jowl with people who are left behind".

Ms Maria Rebecca Pelaez Plaza, president of Manila-based architectural design firm Plaza + Partners Inc, highlighted the importance of reviewing the past to come up with effective solutions for the future that addressed the human dimension.

"Much of our infrastructure in the region is based on 20th-century design principles when we are dealing with 21st-century si-tuations, conditions and requirements. That definitely needs to be addressed," she said.

The percentage of people living in cities has also shot up, but the human dimension has not been addressed in the design of cities. In the 1900s, 13 per cent of the people lived in cities but now, four billion people live in cities, which is half the world's population, Ms Plaza said.

"We must be designing cities with people at the centre of the town-planning narrative," she added.

Explaining the "charm and challenge" of managing Ho Chi Minh City, Mr Nguyen Thien Nhan, secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, said the city has grown rapidly.

The French designed the city 100 years ago for three million people but now, 10 million people are residing there, and the city continues to attract many more, creating much pressure on the city infrastructure.

To address the challenges, he said, Ho Chi Minh is looking to Singapore so that problems of managing a city can be recognised early.

The city is focusing on ensuring sustainable high growth, conducting simulation to understand problems such as traffic jams and developing solutions to prevent natural phenomena such as flooding.

"Being a smart city means smart management and smart design," he said, adding that results from the government's concerted initiatives, which began only a year ago, might be visible within a year.

Shefali Rekhi


Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2018, with the headline 'People must be at the centre of smart city planning, say experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe