More than half of world’s population is living in cities today. This momentum of urbanization shall show a steep rise over the next three decades. As per the estimates from UN-Habitat, world urban population will reach 60% and 70% by 2030 and 2040, respectively.
These numbers make me think-how will they impact the infrastructure governments plan for these people? How will people’s expectations from technology and their governments, shape intelligent cities of the future?
In a country like China, urbanization is driven as top government agenda to sustain economy growth and improve the quality of life. Mr. Li Ke Qiang, the Premier of China, mentioned in a speech recently, that the speed of urbanization here will affect more than 1 million people every month. That is a number to think about. It is interesting to note GDP is no longer the most important indicator of urbanization. The wellbeing of its people is now an important indicator of urbanization in a country, state or city.
How to govern such a massive urbanization effort at fast speed and also safe guard the interests of common urban people? This is a critical question that demands focus and good solution(s). Of course, any solution that aims to address such a big question dealing with complex urban matters will require multiple components. In this post, I talk about the people part of the solution. You can also see it as citizen participation.
A city like Singapore has been facing challenges as a result of its own success. It is the richest Asian city by GDP per capita, where home ownership is over 90%, mainly through its successful public housing ownership programme, Housing and Development Board (HDB); children enjoy world-class, high quality public education; and all Singaporeans have a good insurance and health coverage owing to its public health insurance and hospital systems. All of these together, do not stop Singaporeans from making ever strong complaints about their unhappiness regarding traffic congestion, higher apartment prices, conflicts and discomfort as Singapore receives more dwellers.
The point I am making here is, that the interests of people can only be understood and addressed through continuous engagement with them.
Over 30 years, Singapore was transformed to one of world’s finest cities. Considering the limited natural resources and human capital it could boast of in 1965, when it became independent, Singapore’s success today is well regarded by its counterparts and academics.
The credit for this also goes to its capability and successful governance. Singapore’s policy makers realize the unhappiness of its people, and have recently changed their governance approach from “govern for the people” to “govern with the people”.
Listening to some complaints from the ground, they realized that somewhere they had lost touch with the grass root people. As an action for change, the Singapore government has conducted a series of Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) sessions directly with its people. These were workshops to actively seek ideas for improvement on teething issues, to build a better future city state for its people. The national day speech by their PM, Mr. Lee Hsien Loong, also reflects his vision for the next 20 years for Singapore. It is to address those issues Singapore’s people raised in Our Singapore Conversation. These include categories like housing, transportation and extensive care in an ageing society, among others.
PM Lee is living what he talks about. He is available for his people, on Facebook, all the time. I am one of his fans. He posted his important activities as a PM, sometimes his family moments and also his key speeches on a daily basis. Many of his followers comment upon these and interact with him, and occasionally mention that this is a good example of citizen engagement of a government leader with its people. It is a trend now that many government leaders and agencies start to engage with people via popular social media, be it Facebook for many countries, or Sina Weibo (weibo) in China.
Involving people and engaging with them via their preferred channel, not just the eGov portal, is critical for a government as a way to collect opinions. This also helps a government to sense if people are happy about things happening in the city, and draw a better short term action plan or even a longer term policy to address those issues its people care the most about.
Back to the iCity vision, I do hope you have read these thoughts from us and have begun to appreciate how our vision revolves around a people centric approach. Everything starts with people. What do you think?
Alfred Wu, Senior Director & Chief Architect, SMU-TCS iCity Labs, Singapore Management University
Alfred leads research on defining a holistic IT architecture and core technology platform for future intelligent cities with a citizen centric view.
Alfred has over 20 years of experience in the IT and related industries. Government leaders in several ASEAN countries have consulted him as a trusted advisor specializing in urban management solutions.
Prior to joining SMU, he was the General Manager of Oracle China, and was responsible for application business sales and strategy for public sector, education, healthcare, and communications