The pressure to be smart

Singapore is the world leader when it comes to “smart cities”. But the Lion City on the equator is not resting on its laurels because of this – on the contrary, it is already planning the next steps.

Beat Hochuli

Fifty years since the island, which lacks raw materials and is located at the southern corner of the Malaysian peninsula, gained its independence, Singapore is now a model when it comes to the concept of the “smart city”. This is astonishing when one considers that, in 1965, the city was poor and underdeveloped – and thus did not want to leave the newly created state of Malaysia, which had gained independence from Great Britain in 1963. On the contrary: disagreements with the government in Kuala Lumpur led to Singapore being expelled against its will in 1965.


Number one in the world

That was the history. Let us now look at the present and to the future prospects, not only for Singapore, but for all cities that have placed the word “smart” on their agendas – and that is just about all of them; after all, no urban centre wants to be known as “not smart”. Today, that would be synonymous with underdeveloped. 

Singapore wants to clearly define the term smart city – in its own interests as well

The fact is, Singapore has made it. In their recently published study on the smart city situation in the Asia-Pacific region, analysts from the American market research company IDC came to an unambiguous conclusion: Singapore is clearly number one. They are followed by the Chinese mainland cities Hangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong. Further places are occupied by Taipei (Taiwan), Christchurch and Auckland in New Zealand and Gold Coast City in eastern Australia.


What are the reasons for the Lion City State’s exceptionally good performance? IDC lists the following: the intelligent transport systems initiative (traffic and transport category), smart water sensors for fresh water and waste water management, smart mapping for the prevention and control of the dangerous tropical disease dengue fever (land use and environmental management) and the Future Schools initiative (education). 

Education and traffic

The latter was launched in 2006 by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), which is responsible for ICT development and promotion. The strategy involves integrating as many public, semi-public and private learning institutions as possible into the programme for the purpose of achieving performance-oriented education goals. Here, special emphasis is placed on ICT-based learning methods – in other words, e-learning, including multimedia skills and interactive methods. 


When it comes to traffic and transport, Singapore was already able to bring home the “C40 & Siemens Climate Leadership Award” in 2013 thanks to the results of the Intelligent Transport System (ITS). The top priority for those responsible for the ITS is to keep traffic moving as fluidly and with as few emissions as possible. This includes an electronic road-pricing and parking system, real-time traffic information and a highly integrated public transport network. As well as meticulous public transport planning, the basis for this includes GPS-based positioning systems and sensor-controlled information services. 


Good planning, GPS-based positioning systems and sensors make Singapore’s public transport system one of the best in the world.


Last but not least, the Singapore government relies on e-government “without limitations”. Of course, there are always limitations in this regard – but that’s just it: in the city state, people should only have to go to a counter when it’s absolutely necessary.


Developing criteria in a smart manner

These are certainly all helpful criteria for determining whether an urban space is more or less “smart”. However, what is really smart is the fact that Singapore is serious about implementing the label. After all, the expression “smart city” is currently more of a vague issue than a clearly defined term. And the IDA, mentioned above, knows this, too. The authority responsible for developing the ICT infrastructure, above all with regard to business interests, announced on 13 October this year that it would be participating in a two-year pilot project for the International Telecommunication Union. The goal of this international initiative is to work out verifiable criteria – known as key performance indicators (KPI) – which can be used as an aid for defining what a smart, sustainable city really is and what does not deserve this title.


The pressure to be smart

Speaking of sustainability: this label will certainly be subject to much misuse. Singapore is taking it seriously – also because it has to. The small island, which is home to a good seven million inhabitants, simply cannot afford to waste resources and pollute the environment. Thus, energy efficiency – and continuous improvement of this – is not simply a buzzword in Singapore, but a simple necessity. The Singaporeans know: just like with individuals, being smart is not a personality trait but an ongoing process.


Beat Hochuli

is a freelance ICT journalist and lives in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.