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Smart, green and liveable: What Singapore could look like in 2030
Population Trends Articles

Smart, green and liveable: What Singapore could look like in 2030

Aerial view of Singapore

It is 8am on a Monday morning. You wake up to gentle music playing in the background and your curtains draw open automatically, thanks to the smart technology that controls the switches in your bedroom.

Your virtual assistant on your mobile phone – Amy, you like to call her – rattles off a list of appointments you have scheduled today. But you interrupt: First, coffee. Over in the kitchen, the coffee maker sets off to work, filling the house with the warm and welcoming aroma of a fresh brew.

You get ready to leave for work and go down to the pick-up point at your void deck, where a driverless car is already waiting. You get in the car and greet two other neighbours from the same block who are also users of the car-sharing service. Like yourself, they are headed to work in the Jurong Lake District, Singapore’s second Central Business District. The car eases into traffic alongside other vehicles, most of which are also autonomous.

In the car, you ask Amy to check in on your elderly mother, whose deteriorating eyesight has been a cause for worry these days. No irregular movements detected, Amy replies, referencing sensors placed in your mother’s home to monitor her movements.

You relax after hearing that, and brace yourself for a full day of meetings and calls in virtual reality.

Welcome to the year 2030 – a vision of what life in Singapore could look like

A smart city

In an age where digital is king, new and emerging technologies – from the Internet of Things (IoT) to artificial intelligence (AI) to big data – will become a pervasive part of everyday life in 2030.

Singapore’s ongoing Smart Nation initiative is focused on exactly that – transforming the country through technology. Smart home applications, for example, have already made their way into some HDB estates, including an Elderly Monitoring System that allows caregivers to keep an eye on the older members of their family, and a Utility Management System that helps households manage their utilities usage.

Gerhard Schmitt, director of research hub Singapore-ETH Centre, notes that workplaces, too, will be more interesting and create more value, with most of the menial work taken over by robots.

“Technology will add to the complexity of our lives and will make it more exciting, as machines and software will extend human physical and cognitive capacities,” he says.

“But it must be inclusive and human-centered, otherwise people will turn against it.”

Former master planner Liu Thai Ker, who is often hailed as the architect of modern Singapore, too, believes technology applications will help to enhance the city.

“But technology is like a vitamin, and urban planning is like building up a healthy body. Technology cannot replace the health of the body, which can only be done with good design,” he says.

“If you use technology on something that isn’t well-designed, it won’t be very effective.”

Mark Wee, executive director of DesignSingapore, the national agency that oversees design for the country, adds that by 2030, technology advancements would have resulted in significant improvements to safety and the overall quality of life.

“Exoskeletons would be commonplace, providing strength and agility to the elderly. Drones would be able to carry us from our homes to our friends’ houses, and computers would be hardwired into our human systems, tracking our health and updating us with the latest information,” he muses.

“To be honest, in this age of exponential change, who knows? It could be pretty weird, but also a lot of fun.”

Designs for a silver age

By 2030, the number of citizens aged 65 and above is expected to more than double to 900,000, from 440,000 today.

A growing silver population, Schmitt believes, will be a privilege for Singapore – not a burden.

“The older generation will be more affluent. Continuing education for the elderly will set free previously undiscovered talents, resulting in new types of businesses for a growing demographic segment of the population,” he notes.

Schmitt points to 2006 Swiss film “Herbstzeitlose (Late Bloomers)” as an example, where four women in their 80s learnt how to use the Internet and started a sustainable business.

“Like in the movie, the experience of older people will be of tremendous value for the next generations,” he says.

Singapore’s rapidly aging population means that every aspect of life should “rightfully and thoughtfully” be designed for universal use, says Wee. This includes catering to the needs of the handicapped, the frail, those with poor eyesight or those hard of hearing, among others.

“Fonts will be bigger, corners (of buildings) will be rounded, and there will be more ramps,” he notes.

“As Singapore is small, we will have to adopt an ‘ageing-in-place’ strategy as we cannot afford to keep the elderly indefinitely in our hospitals, or isolated in a corner of the island. So the elderly will continue to live with the young, vertically integrated in our public housing and high-rise homes.”

A “most liveable” city

The Singapore of 2030, says Schmitt, will be calmer and cooler.

“New technologies and innovations for tropical climates will use the full power of the sun much more efficiently than today to generate electricity where it is needed,” said the professor, who is also the principal investigator of Cooling Singapore, a research project launched last year (2017).

Cooling Singapore looks at the problem of rising temperatures in Singapore, or the Urban Heat Island effect, as a result of urban growth and climate change. The aim is to develop a policy roadmap to tackle the problem and improve outdoor thermal comfort in tropical Singapore.

Technology, including the use of artificial intelligence and sensors for data collection, is a key pillar in the project’s research and development of urban solutions.

A 14-member UHI task force has already been set up, comprising stakeholders from local agencies and universities including Nanyang Technological University and Singapore University of Technology and Design. A draft roadmap will be presented at the Cooling Singapore Symposium during the World Cities Summit on July 11.

By 2030, land transportation will be emission-free and quieter as well, as machines evolve to be more efficient and environmentally-friendly with electrical engines, Schmitt says. Autonomous vehicles and car-sharing will likely dominate the scene.

Singapore’s rail network will be doubled to about 360km by then – the result of new rail lines and extensions, according to a masterplan by the Ministry of National Development (MND) for Singapore’s physical development. The development will mean that eight in 10 homes will be situated within a 10-minute walk of an MRT station.

The government’s greening efforts under the masterplan will also have come to fruition, with at least 85 per cent of Singaporean households living within 400m of a park.

According to Liu, the key to making Singapore a liveable city lies in the masterplan – and whether it is viable for the long term.

“People have always appreciated Singapore because there’s a sense of strong coordination in everything. We look at everything in totality. It’s when you start implementing ideas and plans in a piecemeal fashion that can be worrying,” he says.

One thing is for sure: Singapore of the future will be cooler, calmer, with clean air, clean water, and clean energy, says Schmitt.

“A most liveable city,” he adds.


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