Singapore is steadily working towards becoming a more inclusive, liveable, connected and green city. Being a small island city-state, Singapore has always faced the challenge of having to balance priorities of growing ideas and perspectives. Among the major cities, Singapore remains one of the smallest in the world – about a third the size of Tokyo and half the size of London. Not only is it a small city, it is also both a city and a country – one of just three modern city-states worldwide, possibly the only one responsible for defence, foreign affairs and many other things that are associated with a full sovereign state. This implies that, unlike other cities, Singapore has to develop a lot of infrastructure such as airports, roads, seaports, and waste management plants within the city limits for it to function properly. At the Singapore Perspective 2022, Desmond Lee, Minister for National Development and Minister-in-Charge of Social Services Integration, discussed the existing infrastructure of Singapore and the road ahead for the city-state. Excerpts…

Improving city planning

Climate change and sustainability

One big challenge in city planning is climate change. As a lowlying island nation, Singapore is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather. In order to protect the city, it is essential to elevate the land. In addition to this, enhancing the drainage system, and constructing sea walls and polders as defences are other means to keep the sea out. It is expected that this infrastructure development will entail investments of $100 billion or more over the next 50 or 100 years. In order to mitigate climate change, Singapore launched the Green Plan in 2021. The plan will collectively remake almost every aspect – how one lives, how one works, and how one moves. The Green Plan will help transform Singapore into a truly sustainable city of the future.

Some of the key initiatives being undertaken under the Green Plan include increasing biodiversity, developing more parks, making urban infrastructure more sustainable, incorporating energy efficiency in buildings, using sustainable construction materials, etc. Singapore has raised its minimum energy performance requirements and updated the Green Mark scheme. Under the latest Green Building Masterplan, the city-state plans to make 80 per cent of its buildings green by the end of this decade (2030), ensure that 80 per cent of new buildings starting construction in 2030 are superlow-energy buildings.

It further plans to have buildings reach 80 per cent energy efficiency improvement (from 2005 levels) by end 2030. These targets are known as “80-80-80 in 2030”, focusing the minds of industry and Singaporeans on how much more work needs to be done to make the city green. The use of solar panels, smart lighting, heat-reflecting paint and other technologies is being done in Housing and Development Board (HDB) towns and heartlands to make them greener too. Singapore plans to phase out all internal combustion engine vehicles by 2040. For this, the city-state needs to invest in infrastructure to support the major transition, including an extensive network of charging points for electric vehicles all across the island.

The public transport network is steadily being improved by building more mass rapid transit stations and lines, rolling out cleaner energy buses, and with plans of expanding the cycling path network to around 1,300 km by 2030. Singapore is greening the power grid by installing solar panels in all sorts of places – on the roofs of HDB blocks, floating on reservoirs, etc. In the future, Singapore plans to develop regional power grids and import low-carbon electricity from abroad.It plans to generate green jobs and a greener economy in areas like carbon emissions measurement or verification, energy efficient technology and green financing. Companies are being supported to build capabilities and do research in sustainability solutions. The carbon tax seeks to reduce the carbon footprint across the country’s economy.

Inclusive and united society

Besides climate change, which is top of mind around the world, another major challenge is to continue fostering a more inclusive and united society in the citystate. Singapore proactively plans to create opportunities for different groups to interact, in and around where they live. The citystate has policies like the Ethnic Integration Policy, which seeks to ensure a representative mix of races in the HDB heartlands. Recently, a new model for public housing in prime locations has been launched. It will introduce public rental housing for lower income households in these prime locations too. Continuous efforts are being made to better support persons with disabilities and senior citizens.

Through regulations like the BCA’s Accessibility Code, as well as various agencies’ efforts to design and install accessibility infrastructure, many parts of the city have been made more barrier-free. But from the everyday experience of differently abled Singaporeans, gaps still exist, which will be addressed over time. Similarly, integrated developments like Kampong Admiralty and an upcoming one in Yew Tee bring housing, medical, commercial, and community facilities together, so that senior citizens can meet their different needs easily.

Land use pressures and city maintenance

As people age and the nation matures, the city will also grow old. It, therefore, is essential to not just develop new parts of the city, but also to maintain the quality of existing infrastructure. The neglect of roads and highways, damaged and leaky pipes, and buildings falling into disrepair lead to urban decay. Singapore authorities continue to push the boundaries of facilities management and maintenance by exploring how to use more advanced technologies to take care of buildings as they age, as well as integrated and aggregated facilities management. A persistent challenge that Singapore grapples with is how to make the most of the very limited land to cater to the many competing and growing needs as the nation continues to progress.

Singapore has a masterplan to guide development over the next 10 to 15 years, which is reviewed every five years. And every 10 years, the long-term plan is revised and updated for the next 50 years and beyond. A variety of strategies are deployed to maximise land use. These include intensification of the use of land, reclaiming land where feasible, and even using underground space, guided by the Underground Masterplan, and by redeveloping and rejuvenating existing developments, to free up land for new and more high intensity uses.

The road ahead

Climate change, societal polarisation, an ageing population, city maintenance, tightening land use pressures are the known challenges that are faced in city/city-state development. However, in an increasingly volatile and uncertain world, one also needs to prepare for unknowns such as Covid-19. Innovation is born out of crises, and the pandemic is a chance to do things better and smarter. Singapore plans for greater flexibility such as safeguarding more land to stockpile and produce essential materials during supply disruptions. Going forward, Singapore will be a city-state that is more inclusive, designed for people with different needs and abilities, not as an afterthought or a retrofit, but from the outset. It will be a digitally enabled, globally connected city. It will be a hub for trade in goods and services, as well as for digital flows and the exchange of skills and ideas