Creating a smarter Singapore

In the race to becoming the world's first smart nation, Singapore's urban landscape will be increasingly attuned to its residents' lifestyles.

October 07, 2015

The city state is aiming to be an urban landscape so well integrated with technology that its residents will know the best walkways to take on rainy days, how long a bus ride is going to take based on traffic flows or even if someone is having a heart attack and needs help. 

This is the goal of the Singapore government, which announced plans in 2014 to transform the city into a Smart Nation; one that harnesses technology to connect people, places and things to improve efficiency and their quality of life.

The nation state has already implemented new technology to fulfil its vision, for example a mobile app that notifies those who have downloaded it if there is a cardiac emergency near their location. By the time the ambulance arrives, patients have already received life sustaining help. In the last six months, ordinary members of the public responded to over 80 potential cardiac cases through the app.

Eventually, there might even be mobile apps that map out a sheltered route to keep dry on a rainy day. Also in the pipeline are traffic lights that adjust their timings depending on the flow of vehicles throughout the day.

A smarter approach to cities

Smart cities are rapidly developing around the world. There is Songdo in South Korea, where streets have sensors to monitor traffic and adjust signals depending on congestion. Other countries, including the U.S., the UK, Japan and India, are also prioritizing smart cities in their national agendas. Singapore has set higher sights and aims to be the world’s first Smart Nation.

As part of this goal, critical issues, such as an aging population, high urban density and transport, will increasingly be tackled through the analysis of data to improve decision-making, explains Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Singapore’s Minister-in-Charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office. He also notes that Singapore has “made good progress in establishing the backbone infrastructure in order to support big data and analytics” through various information communications initiatives such as building ultra-high-speed infrastructure.

Singapore already boasts some of the world’s fastest broadband speeds on average, according to internet benchmarking company Ookla, while communication technology provider Ericsson has named Singapore the most connected city in Asia.

The country has also improved significantly in the rankings of many global studies in recent years, according to JLL’s The Business of Cities, report, which noted that Singapore overtook Tokyo and Paris for the first time with particular strengths in mobility, broadband and technology platforms.

A shift that cannot be ignored

Singapore’s ambitions have big implications for its real estate. “The real estate industry must be plugged into the Smart Nation movement and property consultants have to embrace it in their operations in the way they advise clients and tap on technology. The concept of a Smart City will also require urban planners to look ahead to see how they can plug and play into the whole network and system,” says Dr Chua Yang Liang, Head of Research for JLL in Singapore.

The government’s push towards the widespread availability of data across sectors such as transport, health care and energy will help developers to better understand the urban environment. New public housing projects can also set a precedent for commercial developments. 

In 2014, the Housing Development Board (HDB), which manages public housing in Singapore, revealed a new framework that involves testing and implementing new smart features in housing estates; for instance, a waste system with sensors to monitor waste disposal patterns so that the data collected can be used to improve the design of bins and frequency of waste collection. Future houses in several upcoming residential estates in Singapore will incorporate such elements.

Other features likely to be tested include lighting systems, lifts and car parks fitted with technology that can help to better analyse usage patterns and respond with appropriate measures. For example, during non-peak hours, when most residents are not at home, the number of parking lots available for visitors will be increased. “Such considerations are also relevant to residential developers,” says Dr Chua. 

Greening solutions take root

In developed cities like Singapore, energy efficiency can be a challenge. For example, power consumption in the country has risen by a third over the past decade and it will grow by an additional 30 percent by 2050.

This is a problem that vertical greenery can help to solve and real estate developers are already paying attention. For instance, City Developments Limited installed a massive vertical garden in a 24-storey residential condominium in Singapore, which set a Guinness World Record in 2014.

“Vertical green architecture is definitely a need for smart cities,” says Matthew Clifford, Head of Energy and Sustainability Services, Greater China at JLL, in an interview with CNBC.

Greenery is a mandate in Singapore’s new builds, he observes. “It’s an energy tool, not just an aesthetic. The city is an importer of energy and realizes it has finite resources so development is heavily skewed towards energy efficiency.”

It’s not surprising that being a Smart Nation goes hand in hand with sustainable design. As Clifford says: “You can have a great interconnected city but if you don’t have an energy efficiency strategy in place, is it really a smart city?”