Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Looking to live smaller, closer

by Esther Ng

Jun 28, 2011

Big, sprawling cities such as Tokyo and Mexico City will be a thing of the past, some experts said yesterday at the inaugural Urban Sustainability R&D Congress here.

Living smaller and closer are the keys to sustainability, they said, because shrinking the distance between people and their destinations would reduce energy use, carbon emission and waste.

But what population density before a city becomes unliveable? For instance, Singapore's density is now 95 people per hectare, while Hong Kong's is 400.

"It's possible to increase that density but that's a political question," said Curtin University of Technology's Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman.

"It boils down to whether people want that density to increase or not."

While higher population density is usually seen as a threat, he said this need not always be so: "Density enables us to multiply sustainability and take advantage of better waste management, better transport links and local services."

Santa Fe Institute's Distinguished Professor Geoffrey West added that spreading out a city makes its population more "car-attendant", while spending more than two hours commuting is "intolerable".

He referred to the "Marchetti Wall" - the growing realisation that people do not like to spend more than one hour each day travelling to work.

"That's why we're not going to see any more Tokyos or Mexico City," said Prof Newman.

While Singapore has made progress in urban sustainability, the experts felt that the Republic needs to think beyond its shores.

"The urban transformation, the policies are just so Singapore-centric - there ought to be five to 10 per cent value-added to it." said Prof West.

"Singapore needs to take a leadership in big thinking, in influencing business, in culture and science and with that, it can be a truly great city like Venice, London or New York."


[I don't understand his point about "Singapore-centric". Policies have to work in the socio-cultural environment. If the policies fit the society better, it works better. Why would want to "globalise" the policy? That is for other govts to look at our policies and tweak them to fit their specific socio-cultural environment and circumstance. It's not the job of our govt to solve their problem or to make our policies less customised in order to be more transferable to other societies. That's just lazy thinking on their part.]

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