How real estate drives smart city initiatives

/ EdgeProp Singapore
July 5, 2019 2:31 PM SGT
Paya Lebar Quarter is a $3.2 billion integrated hub, a two-minute walk from the Paya Lebar MRT Interchange Station (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ EdgeProp Singapore)
Occupying a 3.9ha site, Paya Lebar Quarter comprises a 200-shop retail complex, three Grade-A office towers spanning close to one million sq ft, and three residential towers with 429 units. The urban regeneration project, completed in the first half of 2019, cost Australian property group Lendlease and Abu Dhabi Investment Authority a whopping $3.3 billion.
Massive urban regeneration projects like this have the potential to help boost smart city initiatives, notes JLL in its “Smart Cities Success” report released on June 27. “With the support of Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), Paya Lebar may be a key catalyst in achieving some of Singapore’s long term goals, such as providing jobs closer to homes, cutting congestion and reducing commute times,” says JLL. The giant integrated hub is a mere two-minute walk to Paya Lebar MRT Interchange Station on the East-West and Circle Lines.
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Collaboration among stakeholders

Private-public partnerships such as this are found throughout the Asia-Pacific region. For instance, a Singapore–Sichuan partnership is developing the Hi-Tech Innovation Park in Chengdu, which aims to serve the growth of innovative and knowledge-intensive industries. As at August 2018, it has already attracted 33.9 billion yuan ($6.8 billion) in investments.
In Hangzhou, Allibaba implemented City Brain, a Big Data and AI platform that helps urban planners and officials crunch data and improve public service. It has since become a traffic management solution for the city, covering 420 sq km and 1,300 traffic lights, highlights Derek Wang, general manager at Alibaba Cloud Singapore, in the report. “In two years, Hangzhou dropped from fifth to 57th on the list of China’s worst congested cities. The initiative has increased traffic speed by 15% and achieved an average time saving of three minutes per vehicle,” he adds.
Last year, two of Japan’s multinationals – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group – inked a deal with the New South Wales government in Australia to invest in the Western Sydney Aerotropolis. The major infrastructure plan is centred on Sydney’s second airport, and will include residential and retail precincts, as well as a high-skilled job hub that seeks to cater for 200,000 jobs.
Collaborative efforts are also key to smart city growth. In 2018, the Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN) was set up, comprising 26 pilot cities to share mistakes and successes on their journey to deliver integrated and responsive public services as well as maximise job opportunities.
The private sector has joined forces too. Last year, Chinese juggernauts Ping An, Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei backed China’s Path Initiative, which has an end-goal to work with 500 cities across the country. This would make the collaboration “the world’s largest smart city testing ground”, according to Smart Cities World Forums, an online news site.


Smart city initiatives are not without its challenges. As each city is unique in its size, cultural background and governance, this creates setbacks. First, governance is tricky in intricate organisational structures. Shanghai, for instance, is home to over 24 million people and is divided into 16 districts, three counties, 205 towns and 99 sub-district committees, with 33 city government agencies, JLL points out.
In such cases, it is paramount to simplify organisational hierarchy and break down information silos, or management systems. In 2017, Singapore created the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office for this purpose. The office helms the country’s Smart Nation drive, and acts as the single point of contact for all-of-government to engage.
Second, governments can be “risk-averse and resistant to new ideas”, notes JLL. A topdown approach is key to changing culture. In Taipei, City Mayor Ko Wen-je has spearheaded the Smart Taipei initiative in order to create an environment where failures are allowed and restrictions from government are minimal. This involves a “living lab” concept where start-ups, small businesses and multinationals can trial smart-city solutions. As at October last year, there were 120 such projects ongoing.

Simple, low-tech solutions

Sometimes smart city plans can be simple, low-tech alternatives. “These ideas can increasingly be about smart thinking,” Jeremy Kelly, director of global research programmes at JLL, tells EdgeProp Singapore. One such example is Moonee Valley, in the northwestern suburb of Melbourne, which aims to increase canopy cover from 11% to 30% by 2040. The city council wants to provide more shade and improve air quality to encourage people to venture out more, according to Australian-based site The Mandarin, which covers public sector news. “[The council] is thinking much more about the citizens, rather than thinking about the tech,” comments Kelly.
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