The world is urbanising fast. By 2050, the number of people living in cities is likely to increase to more than 6 billion, or almost three-quarters of the world’s population. This rate is almost the equivalent of adding a new city the size of Singapore every month. Such rapid growth presents economic opportunities. At the same time, it will also place enormous strain on the systems and resources that are essential for our shared wellbeing and prosperity.
“Urbanisation is one of the great social phenomena of our age,” said Jeremy Bentham, Shell’s Vice President, Global Business Environment. “How cities around the world develop in coming decades will determine how efficiently we use vital resources – particularly energy, food and water – and directly impact the quality of life for billions of future urban citizens.”
In its latest publication launched today, Shell’s Scenarios team explores the energy implications of urbanisation. The report looks at different types of cities, how they may evolve and the conditions which shape how well they adapt and reform to external change. A chapter on Singapore, co-authored with Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC), shows Singapore’s journey to become a densely populated and liveable city through good governance and urban planning. It also explores what factors enable cities to have room to manoeuvre, instead of being caught in a trapped transition.
“While every city is different, some guiding principles of ideal development exist, such as increasing compactness and more efficient integration of transport, power and heating systems,” said Bentham. “For example, our research shows that compact city design can typically reduce average car use nationally by as much as 2,000 kilometres per person annually compared to countries with low density development common in many parts of the world today.”
The publication, New Lenses on Future Cities, is the first in a series of supplements to the New Lens Scenarios published by Shell in March 2013. Both Shell and CLC recognise that while there are challenges of urbanisation, opportunities are also plentiful in cities that want to become more liveable, sustainable and competitive. In 2012, Shell and CLC signed a three-year memorandum of understanding to collaborate on research, publications and events on urban management and solutions. This publication is the culmination of the joint research collaboration, during which CLC shared its knowledge, particularly about Singapore’s development experience.
CLC shared insights from Singapore’s journey of recent decades in urban planning, transport and housing in the chapter on Singapore. For example, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was set up in 1960 with a strong mandate to aggressively tackle the problems of housing that resulted in slum and squatter areas. Red tape was slashed and government made funding available. Strong land acquisition laws and powers of resettlement assisted the task. HDB also promoted home ownership and the integration of different ethnic and income groups. Today, some 82% of Singapore’s citizens and permanent residents live in public housing which is well-integrated with nearby jobs, schools, public transport, parks and other amenities.
Acting Director of CLC, Mr Julian Goh, said, “Singapore’s experience in urban development has shown that dynamic urban governance and integrated master planning and development are important for cites to develop room to manoeuvre.”
The publication, New Lenses on Future Cities, also describes the opportunities for different types of cities to develop resource-efficiency. New cities, or city districts, still to be built can be engineered from the outset to a compact integrated ideal. For older cities where design is already hard-wired, existing infrastructure may make ideal development impractical and excessively costly. Well targeted and affordable retrofitting will help. Rather than continuing to spread the city boundary as the population grows, planning authorities could use planning regulations and incentives to encourage and prioritise infilling of existing infrastructure and districts, so that they become progressively more densely populated, to absorb future growth.
The other challenge to ideal development is that residents simply may resist it. Indeed, the cities often thought of as most attractive are prosperous with relatively low population density, reflecting the desirability of “having it all”: proximity to other people and city amenities, while retaining plenty of personal private space, such as detached houses with gardens. But increasing density does not necessarily decrease liveability. Singapore, London, Tokyo are examples of higher density cities with high liveability scores. As global resource stresses increase, social preferences and expectations may change and it is possible that resource efficiency (and hence city compactness) will begin to feature more significantly as a component of city attractiveness and liveability.