Gearing up for tomorrow's super cities

The cities, infrastructure and industrial solutions industry, nurtured by the Economic Development Board, help make Singapore and other cities a smarter and greener place to live, work and play in. In the second of a seven-part series, Arti Mulchand profiles some of the people working in it.

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The numbers are staggering - according to the United Nations, 70 per cent of Asia's population will live in cities by 2050, and more than half the world's 20 mega cities will be in the region.

Already, 44 million people are being added to Asia's urban population every year - that's 120,000 people a day who will need more than 20,000 new homes, 250km of new roads and the necessary infrastructure to supply an additional 6 mega litres (6 million litres) of potable water.

This puts an inordinate strain on finite resources.

"These new cities are keen to address potential challenges such as overcrowding, traffic congestion, rising energy consumption and environmental degradation. This will in turn drive demand for infrastructure investments," explains Mr Goh Chee Kiong, executive director, cities, infrastructure and industrial solutions, at the Economic Development Board (EDB).

Just last month, Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr K. Shanmugam, delivering his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, said that unless cities developed sustainably, they could spiral into poverty and overcrowding.

"By 2030, two billion could live in urban poverty. They will be at risk of overcrowding, epidemics, crime and pollution. The challenge is therefore really to manage urbanisation well," he noted.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia requires US$8 trillion (S$10.2 trillion) worth of infrastructure investments in the current decade ending in 2020.

The good news is that Singapore is well placed to help support the development of smart and sustainable cities, infrastructure and industries, through engineering services such as urban planning, and controls and automation solutions.

In fact, Singapore is viewed as a reference city for urban sustainability and green growth.

A whole-of-government effort has positioned the country as a living laboratory, allowing for the development, testing and commercialisation of innovative solutions, while meeting Singapore's domestic needs.

These solutions can be exported to regional and global markets, explains Mr Goh.

The country boasts a good mix of engineering, procurement and construction firms, engineering consultancies and specialist engineering service providers.

They range from large multi- nationals, like Jacobs Engineering and CH2M Hill, to local players like Surbana and Jurong Consultants.

The sector employs 37,000 people, and more is being done to create professionals with a deep understanding of Asia's particular infrastructure challenges and opportunities.

Among these initiatives is EDB's Asia Leaders Programme in Infrastructure Excellence (Alpine), an executive education programme which will start its inaugural run this year. It will groom "Asia-ready" project-development talent.

Hosted by the Singapore Management University with support from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, it is the first of its kind in the region.

Tomorrow's leaders are also being nurtured for the controls and automation sector, which supports the operation of industrial plants, infrastructure and buildings. Nine of the world's top 10 controls and automation companies have a significant presence in Singapore, including Yokogawa, ABB and Emerson Electric, each of which employs more than 1,000 people.

The sector as a whole employs about 9,000 people.

It is a crucial talent pipeline that can help support rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, and create a better tomorrow for the region, says Mr Goh.

This article was first published on Oct 20, 2014.

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