Singapore: A Model for Sustainable Urban Growth

Future Cities is a collaboration between Skift and MasterCard exploring how major destinations are using smart design to meet the needs of rapid urbanization.


This year Singapore is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary as an independent nation and one of the world’s best examples of intelligent urban and economic development. Over the course of half a century, the city-state has been transformed from a sleepy colonial outpost into an international financial services capital, and a global logistics and mobility hub.


According Singapore Feeder Cities Borderto MasterCard’s 2015 Global Destination Cities Index, Singapore’s five top feeder markets in order of visitors and visitor spend are: Jakarta, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila and Shanghai. However, because the state government has developed the city infrastructure so responsibly and promoted itself on the world stage more aggressively over the last decade, the city is now a magnet for leisure and business travelers from Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. From 2005-2014, Singapore’s total international visitor arrivals jumped from 8.94 million to 15.09 million—an almost 69% increase in one decade.

Explore how Singapore is shaping the city of the future:


1. The Ultimate Transportation Hub

For a city-state roughly half the size of Los Angeles with no natural resources, Singapore has been able to grow quickly by leveraging its central location and placing a high priority on moving a large amount of people and trade goods extremely well. And it’s done so in a smart way.

To process the growing number of new foreign visitors every year, Singapore’s Changi International Airport has evolved into the global benchmark for airport design and user experience. The facility is consistently ranked by Skytrax as the world’s best airport due to a range of environments and amenities catering to passenger’s physical and emotional needs. It’s a human-centric design for modern travelers.

Singapore is also home to the world’s second largest shipping port and the busiest in terms of containerized traffic. With an enviable location at the epicenter of shipping routes connecting China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, India and the Gulf States, the Port of Singapore is connected to over 600 other ports in 123 countries. Last year, the port hosted the inaugural Smart Port Hackathon and then posted the top concepts online. The winner last year developed a “situational awareness” app to track the flow of small ships in the harbor, creating safer and less congested waters.

For cruise passengers, the all-new Marina Bay Cruise Centre Singapore opened in 2012 to better transfer growing numbers of people due to Asia’s booming cruise industry. The new cruise terminal has doubled the capacity of its predecessor, and Singapore is scheduled to have 84 more port calls in 2015 than in 2013.


2. Becoming Asia’s First Fully Realized Smart City

Singapore is ranked as the #1 most connected city in Asia by communication tech provider Ericsson, with over 90% of the residents owning a smartphone. The city has the world’s fastest average broadband speeds, according to internet benchmarking company Ookla, and Tufts University ranks Singapore as the fastest-changing digital economy.

In an effort to seamlessly connect all of those connections on a unified grid, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) government agency is developing a holistic Smart Nation Program called iN2015, designed to tackle new challenges related to Singapore’s growth in the areas of transportation, healthcare and population density/aging.

With almost every person, business, school and public facility connected 24/7, and every public facility and open space wired with sensors, the government can better collect real time data to help residents and visitors live and experience Singapore more easily and efficiently.

For example, Singapore’s Housing & Development Board (HDB) is building networks of sensors to create a “smart environment,” which captures real-time information on environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. That in turn triggers fans in public buildings when thresholds of temperature and humidity are reached.

The government’s new MyTransport.SG app provides interactive maps, traffic cams and real time information on public transportation loads. For the first time a citizen or visitor can evaluate journey options in real-time and make an informed choice about how best to travel around the city. Train commuters are even provided with incentives to travel off-peak, with a variety of rewards delivered straight to their EZ-Link or NETS smart transit cards.

A smart nation “is much more ambitious than being a smart city,” says Steve Leonard, executive director of IDA. “We have all the resources that we will possibly need. We have great universities, great startups, lots of venture capital, and we know we have a supportive government and big companies from around the world that would like to be part of this journey with us.”

3. Striking a Balance Between Urban and Green Space

Hoping to avoid significant pollution issues by balancing green space with the built environment, Singapore is growing bigger and smarter by ensuring a high quality-of-life standard. It’s the highest ranking city in the Siemens Green City Index for Asia, and the nation’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, vowed that Singapore would never be a “grey city.” So far, that promise has been kept.

To offset the large environmental impact during the building of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, Singapore concurrently constructed the Gardens By The Bay Park, a huge greenspace sitting on reclaimed land abutting the bay. The idea was to transform Singapore into a “City in a Garden,” and raise the quality of life in the city even as it urbanizes.

Similarly, the PARKROYAL on Pickering hotel was built with the same ethos, with a zero-energy vertical garden shading much of the hotel’s rooms, cutting the need for constant air conditioning and making the building more eco-friendly. “This hotel shows that even as our cities grow taller and denser, we can retain our green spaces and incorporate energy-saving features by adapting sustainability practices to high-rise developments and the hospitality industry,” said Singapore’s National Climate Change Secretariat office.

If Singapore can continue to add green space as new properties develop, it will create a model for all cities seeking to grow sustainably. Watch our animated video on Singapore’s future here.

Future Cities is a collaboration between Skift and MasterCard, exploring how major destinations are preparing for the new age of urban mobility. From connected infrastructure to smart technologies, this series explores how global cities are creating seamless and personalized experiences for visitors and residents.

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