As technology advances and populations increase, cities are having to come up with innovative ways to cope with the ever-evolving issues of civilisation without losing their identity in the process. Professor Jason Pomeroy, Founding Principal of Pomeroy Studio and the host of Channel NewsAsia's 'Smart Cities 2.0', weighs in on the subject.
What makes a ‘smart’ city’?
It isn’t all about driverless cars, the Internet of Things and other buzzwords. The most effective Smart Cities find ways to preserve and enhance citizens’ lives. Smart Cities have empowered individuals to work collectively towards common values held by the city, such as energy efficiency, job creation, waste management and more. They often embrace technology and society’s use and ‘buy in’ to these common values as a facilitator.
I also believe that truly Smart Cities acknowledge and seek to preserve culture, heritage and tradition – Barcelona is a great example. Finally, the notion of a Smart City will only be acceptable as long as it comes from the bottom up as well as top-down. The solution to the city’s problems need to be provided by a collaboration between the citizens, private companies, government and academia, not imposed on them by elites.
What are some of the worst problems facing Asian cities?
Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world, and as a result, has seen a massive increase in rural to urban migration, which has placed huge pressure on city infrastructure and housing. China alone will require 800 million sqm (total land area of Singapore) of housing a year until 2030, and the traffic and congestion in cities like Manila and Bangkok have stymied their economic growth and competitiveness.
Pollution is also becoming much more of an issue – coal-fired power stations are believed to cost 20,000 lives a year in Southeast Asia, and they power buildings and factories that are inefficiently designed. With electricity consumption set to rise 83 per cent between 2011 and 2035, the number of deaths could triple. Therefore, creating sustainable, low-energy buildings is vital if we are to break our fossil fuel reliance and live in cleaner, greener cities.
How can cities be environmentally-friendly?
Urban greenery. It reduces the ‘Urban Heat Island’ effect, where built-up areas are hotter than nearby rural areas thanks to human activity, and absorbs pollutants emitted by vehicles. Trees, plants, grass and other foliage have been proven to reduce surface temperatures through shading and evapotranspiration by 11-25C in some cases.
Transportation. No city can begin to be Smart if its citizens don’t have the same freedom of movement as they do for speech and trade. This includes public transport, vehicle limits, network design and technological innovation. A well-run transportation system can reduce inequality and emissions as well as spur economic growth.
Is it still possible for ‘old’ cities to be ‘smart’?
I would argue that, done correctly, older cities could very well become the ‘smartest’ cities. Take a walk through Raffles Place and Telok Ayer in Singapore, and you’ll see tall, modern skyscrapers that wouldn’t look out of place in New York adjacent to small, ancient shophouses, many of which welcomed the first traders to arrive in Singapore centuries ago. The way Singapore has blended tradition with modernity has resulted in a city that is highly liveable, clean, tech-savvy, efficient and responsive to the needs of its citizens.
What are some of the most remarkable ‘smart’ Asian cities?
Higashimatsushima in Japan is quite remarkable. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami left 65 per cent of the city underwater, causing 1,100 lives to be lost and approximately 10,000 residents to be evacuated. Parts of the city went without power for a further three months. From then on, the city’s governors vowed to never be as reliant on the national grid again and to create a resilient, self -sustainable society for the remaining 40,000 residents.
The 2022 Net Zero Energy City plan has the ambitious aim of supplying the entire city with locally produced energy. Solar power sites have been built on high ground, and the first micro-grid community (Higashimatsushima Disaster-Prepared, Smart Eco-Town) provides back-up power for itself and the surrounding community. The city’s entire grid infrastructure is smarter, leaner and more efficient, helping the city along its transition into a Smart City.
Smart Cities 2.0 is now showing on Channel NewsAsia. Channel NewsAsia is shown on Channel 411 of HyppTV Malaysia, but you can also catch up on the episodes online here.