I'm very happy to join you this morning for the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Asia Pacific Summit. This is the first time this event is held in Singapore, so let me start by warmly welcoming all our overseas guests. We are very glad to have with us such a distinguished group of experts and planners to discuss a topic that is close to all our hearts � the issue of how to create innovative and competitive cities.
People sometimes say that they look to Singapore as a model in searching for the answer � but we don't claim to have all the answers. Our approach is one where we say that we are always continuously progressing towards our final destination. We have not arrived, and I don't think we will arrive any time soon, so we are constantly learning and striving to do better.
This morning, I will share some perspectives with you, but I also hope to learn from all of you in the subsequent exchange as well.
There is a saying that the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. In many ways, this applies to cities as well. In fact, within the city, it is not just holding two opposing ideas, but city planners often have to balance multiple goals that sometimes pull in different directions.
For example, we all know that cities need to be liveable and sustainable, and that's integral to any city's ability to attract talent and investment. No one wants to have a blighted urban landscape and a concrete jungle destroys the human spirit. So it is vital to have good public spaces, walkable streets, and greenery which is accessible by everyone. At the same time, cities need modern infrastructure � transportation, power, water systems that are clean and efficient. Cities need this infrastructure to be competitive and to offer a quality living environment for their people.
To have good infrastructure, you will need to make big and bold decisions to plan and to put the infrastructure in place. It sounds like a straightforward thing to do, but somehow, we all know that cities everywhere have found it difficult to do this, and there are several reasons for this.
Firstly, sometimes it is due to a NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) mindset, because people do not want something to be built next to their backyard. Sometimes it is opposition from various interest groups, be it local communities or environmental groups, and these groups raise legitimate concerns. But sometimes, even though the concerns can be properly mitigated, and it is very clear from the analysis that the project brings about overall benefits to the society, the opposition persists. So, it is difficult to forge consensus on the way forward.
Another problem many cities face, is that infrastructure projects are very expensive and with real budget constraints. The natural focus of elected governments is on deliverables within their term of government. Long-term projects naturally are not prioritised, and governments find it hard to justify projects with little, or no immediate economic returns.
So it's not surprising that the consequence of all this, is that very few infrastructure projects get done � people's needs are not well-served, and the existing infrastructure, which is already inadequate, continues to deteriorate. It is a problem we see in many cities, rich and poor � not just in developing cities, but developed cities as well.
On some occasions, the new project proceeds, but the scope of the project is too narrow because the tendency is to go for the cheaper option just to get it financed, but there is not enough consideration for longer-term needs, or even other broader environmental and social factors. As a result, there may be sub-optimal outcomes, which may in the long-run become more expensive.
These are real challenges that cities everywhere grapple with, and we all know that there are no easy answers � I do not intend to offer a solution today. What is clear is that we cannot continue to coast along with the current approach. If you just look at Asia alone, the infrastructure needs are huge. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimated that developing Asia will need $1.7 trillion per year in infrastructure from now until 2030. $1.7 trillion per year � this is to meet real economic needs to tackle poverty and respond to climate change. The region now invests about $900 billion annually, so from $1.7 trillion annually and $900 billion annually, there is a huge gap that needs to be met, and clearly the status quo is not tenable.
Within Singapore itself, we too grapple with these issues, and we are constantly searching for new answers. We only have 700 km2 of land here. It is far, far smaller than where many of you come from and as Dr Seek said earlier, it is truly a little red dot. So we scrutinise and plan for each and every project in Singapore very carefully. We have to.
But despite our small size, the good news is that we have yet to reach our physical limits, and that is achieved with good planning ahead of time, good long-term planning. That is why, despite all that you see around us, over the coming decade, we are in fact investing significantly in new infrastructure which we need to stay competitive.
We are, for example, doubling the capacity of our airport and our sea ports. The airport is in the eastern part of Singapore. Many of you who have come from overseas would have gone through Changi Airport. We are building a new Terminal 5, which will double the capacity of Changi Airport today.
We are doubling the capacity of our sea ports too. Our sea ports are container ports found in different parts of the island. Now in fact, we have something very close to the city. From here, if you look out during the day, you will be able to see the container cranes. We are shifting and consolidating all of that into the western part of Singapore in Tuas, where we are doubling the capacity of our container ports.
We are also enhancing land connectivity with our northern neighbour, Malaysia, and we are doing that with not one, but two rail links. We are building a High Speed Rail (HSR) between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, which will allow for very quick travel between the two cities � 90 minutes can get you from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur when the HSR is built. We are also building a new Rail Transit System (RTS) that links southern Malaysia and northern Singapore. That RTS will be integrated with our own rail network, so travel will be completely seamless.
We are also enhancing our own public transport system within Singapore. If you go around, you will see a lot of construction, especially underground. That is because our goal is that 8 in 10 homes will be within 10 minutes' walk of a railway station, and we are on track to achieving this goal.
At the same time, we are building new growth centres all over the island � not just within the CBD, but beyond. For example, the movement of our city ports, as I mentioned earlier, we are consolidating that in the west. When we do so, this will free up space for us to expand our downtown centre, which is where we are today. In fact, the space freed up will be three times the size of our current Marina Bay, and that will allow a lot of opportunities for us to expand our CBD area.
Beyond the current downtown, we are developing new growth clusters. At the site where the HSR terminus is located in the western part of Singapore in Jurong, we are building a new CBD, which will provide another cluster of activities for our current needs.
In the northern part of Singapore where we have the rail transit link to Malaysia, there is an area called Woodlands where we are building another cluster for advanced manufacturing and for digital economies. So we are broadening our development beyond our downtown area, so that there will be more opportunities for jobs all over Singapore.
In expanding our city, we are also changing the way we build. We are trying out more productive construction methods, and leveraging on technological and innovative solutions to be a Smart Nation. In particular in transport, we are using sensor data and analytics to manage public buses, and to reduce crowding as well as to shorten waiting times. These have already been deployed and we have managed to see some effective results.
We are conducting trials for self-driving vehicles, for both public and freight transport. One trial involves what is called truck platoons. What are truck platoons? Essentially, it is a human-driven truck that leads a convoy of driverless trucks. So instead of one driver in every truck, that same driver can now transport several trucks at a time. This reduces manpower and allows more freight movement to be conducted at night to ease traffic congestion.
So these are pilots that are being done in Singapore, and in the long-term, we believe autonomous technologies will help us reduce the number of vehicles on the road and reduce manpower needed to operate our transport system.
Even with all these infrastructure plans, we are committed to keeping Singapore one of the greenest cities in the world. A large part of Singapore today is still covered by greenery. If you look around, this area is highly built up. But not all of Singapore is like that. In fact, a recent study by MIT and the WEF ranked Singapore as the top city in the world in terms of green cover. We have significant green cover due to our parks, our nature reserves, and we are committed to preserving and even enhancing this asset.
Today, we have about 300 km of park connectors. In an island of 700 km2, to have 300 km of park connectors is something quite unique, and is quite hard to find anywhere else in the world. We are enhancing this to 360 km by 2020, and we will enhance it further. For example, we have something called the Rail Corridor in Singapore. It is a stretch of disused railway line, from north to south of Singapore, 24 km long, about 10 times longer than the High Line in New York. We are smaller than New York, but fortunately, we have a railway line that is longer. We are converting that into a green linear park, and we are engaging residents who are living alongside this rail corridor. There are more than 1 million people living alongside this stretch of rail corridor, and we are engaging in an extensive engagement exercise with them to see how we can make this a vibrant community space.
So in 5 years' time, if you come back here, don't just walk around the city area. You can walk down the entire stretch of the rail corridor. You can jog, you can cycle, and even do so around the entire island.
I've shared with you some of our infrastructure and urban plans over the coming decade. Collectively, it amounts to a major pipeline of new investments, because we believe that is what it takes for Singapore to be competitive and innovative. But we're not just building for the sake of building, or going for the biggest or tallest buildings. Our aim is to build our clean, green and smart city with high quality urban solutions, and do so in a way that strengthens our local heritage and local communities, and enhances the quality of life for all our people.
This is what we are doing in Singapore, but we are aware that every country is different, and every country faces its own set of challenges. There's never a one-size-fits-all solution. In our case, we have had rapid urbanisation over the last 50 years, since independence. So we have accumulated some expertise in urban and infrastructure planning, which we are happy to share based on our own experience and perspectives. In particular, we believe Singapore can play a useful role as an infrastructure hub for the South-East Asia, or even the broader Asian region.
Within Singapore itself, we are home to high-quality professional services, including project advisory, consultancy, financing, dispute resolution, and legal services, all necessary to bring infrastructure projects into being. We have an ecosystem that integrates infrastructure players along the entire value chain. Be it architecture and engineering, multi-lateral banks, private financiers, as well as other professional services. We hope we can play a useful role as an infrastructure hub for Asia, and help others develop their own long-term urban masterplans, and successfully plan and implement infrastructure projects.
In fact, this summit itself is on example of the role that Singapore can play, and we hope that it will be the start of many more fruitful conversations, networking, as well as partnership opportunities. So on this note, I wish you all a wonderful time in Singapore. Do take advantage of the tours that are being planned for you, and I wish you all a successful summit here.
Source: Ministry of National Development, Singapore