New research programme to find local solutions to urban challenges

Panoramic view of the Singapore skyline.
Panoramic view of the Singapore skyline.PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

$150m Cities of Tomorrow R&D Programme to mitigate climate change, optimise resources

In the face of rising urban challenges such as climate change and limited land and energy resources, the Ministry of National Development (MND) yesterday announced a new research programme to find local solutions.

The Government will set aside $150 million for The Cities of Tomorrow R&D (research and development) Programme, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

This will "prioritise and focus our R&D efforts on critical areas of national concern, so that we can achieve our vision of a highly liveable and people-centric city with a sustainable urban ecosystem".

Mr Wong was speaking yesterday at the opening of the two-day Urban Sustainability Research and Development Congress at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The $150 million is part of the $900 million set aside for the Urban Solutions and Sustainability Domain, under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan.

Mr Wong said the need to mitigate the impact of climate change and to optimise limited resources in land, water, energy and manpower were some of the "increasingly complex urban challenges" facing the country.

  • $5.3m

    Cost of the Housing Board's own research programme.

The programme will focus on four key R&D areas:

•Construction: To have a more productive and technologically-advanced construction sector, for instance through automation and the use of robots.

•Infrastructure: Using research to minimise issues such as building defects, and enhance inspection methods, leading to increased reliability but lower costs.

•Space: Find ways to free up more space for community activities, such as by moving certain functions, such as storage facilities, underground.

•Living environment: Enhance the energy and resource efficiency of towns, and create a more pleasant living environment through, for instance, reducing ambient noise.

Mr Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at real estate firm ZACD Group, said that while the programme's aims are laudable, there are other considerations. He said: "For example, condos and flats are getting smaller and being built closer to one another. This also affects residents' quality of life, if they don't have a decent living space.

"It is too early to say what effect this initiative will have on the public, as it has to depend on the solutions that are proposed and implemented."

At the same conference, the Housing Board announced its own $5.3 million research programme.

The four-year study will answer questions such as: Could weather be a factor in lift performance? Can potential lift faults be predicted and pre-empted?

HDB signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) yesterday with Imperial College London and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's Institute for Infocomm Research for the study.

HDB chief executive Cheong Koon Hean said: "With data collected from a strong network of sensors and analytic tools, we can carry out analytics more efficiently and accurately. Common services in HDB estates can then be better optimised, maintained and managed. The end result is quality living for our residents."

Town councils are responsible for maintaining common services in housing estates, but they do not collect data and analyse usage of services at this level of detail.

The HDB hopes to share any innovations with town councils.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Finding solutions to urban challenges'. Print Edition | Subscribe