Asia Pacific cities face the challenge of sustainable growth: ULI’s Khoo Teng Chye

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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August 13, 2021 5:30 AM SGT
Khoo: Sustainability is not just a catchphrase. It is a real issue that affects all of us. (Picture: Samuel Isaac Chua/The Edge Singapore)
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Many cities in the Asia Pacific region have seen amazing urban growth over the past few years, but all cities face the same challenge of supporting sustainable urban growth, says Professor Khoo Teng Chye, chair of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Asia Pacific. (See also: Frasers Property secures $309 mil sustainability-linked loan in Australia)
Urban growth among most cities in the Asia Pacific remains high but presents a challenge for urban planning, says Khoo. “There are so many burgeoning cities in the Asia Pacific, and not just those that are rapidly growing but also ones that are highly innovative such as Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore,” he says.
“Sustainability is not just a catchphrase. It is a real issue that affects all of us and at the same time, we must face other challenges such as climate change and ageing societies,” says Khoo, who started his three-year tenure as ULI Asia Pacific chair on July 1 this year.
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A global network

As one of the foremost global networks of experts in the real estate and land use industry, ULI has over 45,000 members around the world.
“What distinguishes ULI from many other organisations is that it is multi-disciplinary, involving developers and investors as well as consultants and government bodies,” says Khoo. The network is also extremely focused in its collective journey to promote the development of more vibrant urban communities around the world, he says.
ULI Asia Pacific has almost 2,600 members in countries such as China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, the Philippines and Australia. However, the size of the Asia Pacific network is still a “far cry” from its American and European counterparts, says Khoo.
He says that ULI Asia Pacific has been able to sustain its membership numbers through the course of the pandemic so far.
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“I think what we can look forward to over the next three years as I take up my position as chair, alongside the new executive committee, is how we can recover and get back to the path of growth. This includes learning the lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic,” he says.
He highlights four key strategic thrusts that will be his focus during his tenure. These are growth strategies for ULI, enhancing its learning programmes, a focus on sustainability, and nurturing the next generation of industry leaders.
Khoo teaches at the Faculty of Engineering and the School of Design and Environment at the National University of Singapore. He is also a fellow and former executive director at the Centre of Liveable Cities, a division of Singapore’s Ministry of National Development.
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Growing the regional network

Growing the size of its members in the Asia Pacific is one of the key tasks that Khoo will tackle as he takes up the reins at ULI. He says that he and his team are looking into expanding the institute’s presence into other markets, including Indonesia and Vietnam.
“We do want to grow, and grow aggressively, not just in the current markets where ULI already has a presence, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea,” says Khoo. While there is still a lot of opportunities to grow its member base in these countries, there are huge opportunities in Greater China that ULI is beginning to capitalise on.
Even in Southeast Asia, there is a high level of interest among industry players to join the ULI community. ULI only has about 20 members in Indonesia, but last quarter, when the network hosted a virtual webinar on housing in Indonesia, over 200 people tuned in to the discussion.
EMPTY STREETS - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
The responsibility of developing sustainable and resilient cities falls on government, private developers and land use experts, says Khoo. (Picture: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore)
“The level of interest is very high, and the country continues to see rapid urban development, especially in secondary cities such as Surabaya, Bandung and Yogyakarta, which are all developing very quickly. People there are hungry for knowledge, and they are eager to learn how the best in the world build sustainable cities,” says Khoo.
He adds that it is the responsibility of ULI Asia Pacific to reach out and satisfy that hunger for knowledge through its growth strategies and plans to increase its membership. He says that the pandemic has demonstrated how technology enhances its ability to host more virtual learning and network opportunities.
Another key focus for ULI Asia Pacific is reaching out to the next generation of real estate industry leaders.
“There are many family-owned, private property developers in the region, and the generation that helped build up these companies is in the process of passing the baton to the next generation. At ULI, we want to connect with the younger leaders and try to see how they can also be part of the ULI community,” says Khoo.

Knowledge sharing

The responsibility of developing sustainable cities is no longer confined to government, but has expanded to include private developers, consultants and other land use experts, says Khoo. One way ULI is contributing to this effort is by sharing its pool of knowledge to build better communities.
One of its education initiatives is UrbanPlan, a workshop-based simulation exercise for universities and public officials to understand the complexities involved in developing sustainable and resilient urban communities.
Singapore’s Marina Barrage - EDGEPROP SINGAPORE
Singapore’s Marina Barrage is an example of the type of sustainable and resilient urban solution that many countries around the world are embarking on. (Picture: The Edge Singapore)
“It is a very complex matter because it’s not just about acquiring land and developing a building. You also need to consider if the development serves the needs of the surrounding communities, but at the same time gives returns to the investor and the developer,” says Khoo.
In Singapore, the Marina Reservoir is an excellent example of sustainable building. It primarily serves as a tidal barrier and a block against rising sea levels, but it is also an important water catchment. “For a city like Singapore, it is also an iconic waterfront development that benefits the community. It is an example of a sustainable and resilient urban solution that is not unique to Singapore. All cities are searching for these types of resilient urban solutions,” he says.

Preparing to face future challenges

It is likely that the next generation of real estate and urban planners will have a different perspective on the types of challenges they will face, compared to the perspective of the older and current crop of industry leaders, says Khoo.
“I think it is for us as a community, especially the ULI community, to work with the young leaders to figure out what challenges they will face and how to prepare them to face the challenges,” he says. “That is why I think it is helpful to get together and discuss what the great challenges ahead are, and then how we as a community can tackle them together.”
In Khoo’s view, climate change will remain one of the top priorities in the years ahead. The next great challenge will likely be a shortage of suitable housing across many cities in the Asia Pacific. “I think almost every city in Asia has a problem with housing and it will be one of the big challenges in the coming years,” he says.
This means making sure that the cities can provide enough housing for all its residents, whether it is affordable housing or housing for the middle class. “I think the great problem is not just affordable housing in terms of rental housing for the poor, but also housing for young people and young families. I think housing will be a huge issue in many of our cities because cities continue to be attractive places to live and work, but there is almost [always] never enough housing supply,” says Khoo.
He also points out that some cities such as Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo are faced with an ageing population, and are “at the end of their demographic dividend”. This changes the profile of these cities, and urban planning and design will have to adapt.

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