Smart cities need more than technology: Singapore's ex-master planner Liu Thai Ker

Former Singapore master planner Liu Thai Ker speaking at the China-Singapore Executive Forum 2018, in Beijing, on Sept 12, 2018.
Former Singapore master planner Liu Thai Ker speaking at the China-Singapore Executive Forum 2018, in Beijing, on Sept 12, 2018. PHOTO: CAIXIN MEDIA

BEIJING - Smart technology cannot replace wise planning in building a city, Singapore's former master planner Liu Thai Ker has said.

Many young planners put blind faith in technology, thinking that knowledge of technology is enough to plan a city well, and this is the reason why urban environments do not do well, he said on Wednesday (Sept 12) at a forum in Beijing.

Mr Liu was sharing his experience at the China-Singapore Executive Forum 2018, which discussed cooperation between the two countries in the building of smart cities and developing of the new economy.

"Singapore's planning was done well and at the same time the government cared very much about the use of smart technology. In combining the two, we made certain achievements. One cannot replace the other, they need to work together," said Mr Liu.

While technology cannot replace planning, information technology can help the operation and efficiency of cities and buildings, he added.

"If we understand this clearly, we will build a truly new type of smart city," he concluded in his keynote speech.

Noting that China is very strong in science and technology, while Singapore has a more mature approach in the use of technology in city planning and building design, Mr Liu said "I look forward to Singapore and China learning from each other to create a more ideal world".

Chinese panelists acknowledged that there were shortcomings and challenges to overcome in China's endeavour to build smart cities.

Mr Qiao Runling, deputy chairman and research fellow at the China Centre for Urban Development, said the biggest challenge is the lack of ability to integrate.

He said within the government, there is a lack of integration between policies, functions and data. Transport, for example, is managed separately from green development. Different departments are information silos and there are also great institutional barriers.

"A truly smart city should have chemistry and three-dimensional integration, otherwise you cannot talk about becoming a smart city," he said.

Mr Shan Zhiguang, secretary-general of China Smarter City Development and Research Centre, noted that 10 years after the idea of building smart cities was mooted in 2008, China is still at a tentative stage.

This is because there is a lack of a core concept of what constitutes a smart city; a lack of effective design theories and methods; and a lack of mechanisms for the long-term sustainable operation of smart cities.

The absence of standardisation, cooperation and sharing of knowledge and data across government institutions and the private sector was also brought up in discussion on the development of the new economy in China.

Mr Jerry Chen, the founding director of Healthcare Big Data Lab of Tencent, noted that China has huge amounts of data but this data is not linked up and so its value is not fully utilised.

"From the perspective of national policies and companies working with each other, there should be greater guidance so that there is a better way or mechanism to give full play to the value of data," he said.

The forum, organised by the Singapore Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China and Caixin Media, also saw three closed-door roundtable discussions on cooperation in healthcare, infrastructure and technology.