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Charissa Yong
Thursday, May 22, 2014

Singapore

New tech, greenery to raise quality of life

The Straits Times | Charissa Yong | Thursday, May 22, 2014

A LACK of size has forced Singapore planners to get creative in the use of both space and technology, experts say, and that in turn has paved the way for the Smart Nation envisioned in the next phase of development.

Yesterday, seven ministries released their brief addenda on how to make Singapore a "liveable city and endearing home".

Their set of broad plans, the third of five to be released this week, added on to President Tony Tan Keng Yam's speech last Friday laying out the Government's priorities for the rest of its term.

A highlight is the plan to tap more new technology to raise the quality of life, and add parks and greenery wherever possible - whether within a 10-minute walk of one's home, or high up on Housing Board blocks. These are a large part of the Government's vision to make Singapore a Smart Nation with better public services and more engaged citizens.

"The problem is that Singapore is a very crowded city. Technology can help by moving people more efficiently from point A to point B," said Professor Bernard Tan of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) information systems department.

For example, traffic lights at junctions with sensors now change according to users' needs rather than at fixed intervals, which improves traffic flow.

This sort of efficiency is crucial as Singapore does not have much space to begin with, said experts.

"It is important for a small city state to adopt these technologies early and, ultimately, innovate," said NUS Institute of Systems Science's chief of research Virginia Cha. "A society with a growing population has more competition for finite resources, which leads to increased friction... When not properly moderated, individuals become more stressed and dissatisfied with living conditions."

But experts agreed that Singapore is off to a good start.

"We have made quite a few steps forward," said Professor Lim Ee Peng, director of the Singapore Management University's Living Analytics Research Centre.

The private sector, he added, already uses smartphone apps that match taxis with commuters.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority's latest draft masterplan released last year also promised that almost everyone in Singapore will live within 400m of a park.

Singapore Institute of Planners president William Lau acknowledged that Singapore already leads the global pack in terms of its parks and urban greenery.

"But from the viewpoint of citizens and urban planners, there's a lot more... that can be done," he said. He urged the Government to build more cycling tracks sooner.

Experts said the Government should keep an eye out for issues such as cyber security and privacy concerns. But NUS' Prof Tan said that citizens must also be aware of the trade-offs between the benefits of technology and privacy.

"If I want to enjoy location based services, like being alerted about nice eateries everywhere I walk, I must disclose my location," he said. "The role of the Government is to ensure that information people give up is not subject to abuse."

charyong@sph.com.sg


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