One of the key questions of our time is how to ensure the sustainability of tomorrow’s cities in times of rapid urban growth. Asia in particular has been predicted a heavy increase in urban population. As responsible city travellers we are intrigued by the history and current development of the places we visit. Here’s what we found out about Singapore and urban sustainability.

Last year, a study by Shell and Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities explained why the compact city model is key to resource efficiency, and how cities can also be highly livable. Jessica Cheam on reports the following from the study’s presentation in Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands Singapore - Aerial Shoot
Aerial view of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Massive Urban Population Growth in India, China, Nigeria, West Africa, US

The global urban population is expected to rise from 3.6 billion in 2010 to 6.3 billion by 2050, and the top five locations for this urban population explosion are India, China, Nigeria, West Africa and the United States. This rate is almost the equivalent of adding a new city the size of Singapore every month.

Presenting the new report at a lecture held at the Ministry of National Development’s auditorium, Shell’s vice president, global business environment, Jeremy Bentham noted that urbanisation is “one of the great social phenomena of our age”.

“How cities around the world develop in coming decades will determine how efficiently we use vital resources – particularly energy, food and water – and directly impact the quality of life for billions of future urban citizens,” said Bentham.

Energy use is concentrated in sprawling metropolises and prosperous communities, while the vast majority of future urbanisation is set to take place in developing mega hubs and underprivileged crowded cities.

How resilient is New York City?
New York City

While every city is different, some guiding principles of ideal development exist, such as increasing compactness and more efficient integration of transport, power and heating systems,” said Bentham. “For example, our research shows that compact city design can typically reduce average car use nationally by as much as 2,000 kilometers per person annually compared to countries with low density development common in many parts of the world today.”

The study said two typical institutional development routes evolve in response – in the first, some can adopt and reform, giving them “room to manoeuvre”. In others, action is delayed until it is forced by growing crisis, putting cities in a “trapped transition”.

Sustainable City: How Singapore Became Asia’s Leader in Urban Sustainability

In a chapter on Singapore, the study said the city-state was falling into a trapped transition fifty years ago when it first gained independence and was facing high unemployment and poor public hygiene with the majority of its population living in slums. But its policymakers then took decisive steps in urban planning, housing and transportation which created room to manoeuvre for its long-term physical development.

For example, the Housing and Development Board was set up in 1960 with a mandate to tackle the problems of housing, and strong land acquisition laws and powers of resettlement were implemented.Today, more than 80 per cent of its citizens live in public housing which is well-integrated with nearby jobs, schools, public transport, parks and other facilities.

Bentham told the audience that the core challenge for cities in the future “will be the tension between compactness and livability… and the best of both worlds is feasible. Singapore is an example.”

The study also argues that new cities yet to be built can be designed from the beginning to a “compact integrated ideal”. For older cities with existing infrastructure, well targeted and affordable retrofitting will help.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Study: Make Cities Compact, Avoid Sprawl

Also, rather than continuing to expand city boundaries as population increases, policymakers should use regulations and incentives to encourage the “infilling” of existing infrastructure and districts, so that they become progressively more densely populated to absorb future growth.

The other challenge cities may face is resistance from residents. Cities often considered most attractive are prosperous with low population density, reflecting the desirability of “having it all”: proximity to other people and city amenities, while retaining plenty of personal private space, such as detached houses with gardens, said the Shell/CLC study.

But increasing density does not necessarily decrease livability. Cities such as Singapore, London, Tokyo are examples of higher density locations with high livability scores. As the stress on global resources increase, public expectations may change and it is possible that resource efficiency – and hence city compactness – will “begin to feature more significantly as a component of city attractiveness and livability”, the study observed.

Read the full article at

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