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The Future of Cities - A collaboration between Channel News Asia (Perspectives) and Newcastle University
SINGAPORE 23rd November 2015

The panelists

  • Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Chair of Town Planning, Newcastle University, UK
  • Professor Peter Edwards, Centre Director of, Singapore, ETH-Centre
  • Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development Siemens Global Centre of Competence for Cities
  • Ynse De Boer, Managing Director - Strategy & Sustainability, Accenture
Rural-urban migration, optimizing housing conditions, health and education, on how technology can help to improve the conditions and equip for future potential.

The future of cities and on how urban planning can help to solve the problems from migration.

There is no single future for cities, cities of different sizes and locations are facing unique challenges. The diverse populations are growing richer, older or younger, more spread-out and more concentrated. Is it possible to address these problems with effective plans?

A prediction made in the recent UK Future Cities project: Our cities' most important future challenges include immigration flows, an ageing population, and the formation of ghettos of all forms, both rich and poor. Only by breaking the segregation can we turn the diversity into a creative force for innovation, growth and well-being.

According to Professor Tewdwr-Jones, there are economic disparities among cities. Cities need to be resilient to climate change and to extreme weathers, and deal with environmental issues. These are necessary steps to ensure good quality of life for all citizens.

Professor Tewdwr-Jones then questioned, 'why are we still not addressing the problem till now?' He explained that part of the problem is that we have been looking at solutions within the narrow silence of different policy agendas that may have business or economic implications, which can lead to social consequences.

According to Professor Tewdwr-Jones, it is important to look at the long-term effects for future of cities in a more coordinated approach, and to look for innovations and opportunities. This will bring different industries and sectors together, and develop spaces for opportunities.

Professor Edwards said that he appreciates how Singapore has taken a special interest and effort in innovative work. However, it is also good to recognize that not all cities are similar to Singapore. How do we tackle these challenges and how would be the process from the corporate perspective?

All cities are unique, and problem-solving has to be catered individually for each city, as each city is facing different problems. This was one of the highlights that Powell acknowledged during the panel discussion.

Cities are facing bigger challenges than ever before. For example, by 2050, each city will consume only 20% of today's energy consumption with twice the amount of people moving around in the same space.

De Boers suggested focusing on the opportunities to create and introduce innovative products, and he is very optimistic that technology will overcome many of the challenges that we are seeing today. De Boers also revealed that Accenture is about to launch another set of research at the Cop21. They quantify the opportunity for technology and private sector, and it is a multi-trillion dollar opportunity by 2030. It is difficult to predict something for the future just like how no one is able to predict companies such as Uber and Airbnb to be valued at 20 to 30 billion dollars market cap.

Uber and Airbnb are considered as unicorns in enterprise. Powell then explained that these businesses were considered as short-term opportunity to solve a small problem with correct efficiency and with a good optimization of the current infrastructure. In return, the short-term opportunity gave the stakeholders a long-term infrastructure and investment, and all were achieved using digitalization as a tool. Another instance would be driverless trains and cars. They create more capacity to save energy and provide better predictability in traffic flow.

In New York 20% of the people are self-employed and are already using digital tools to do their jobs, as mentioned by Professor Edwards. Digital technology does change the economic flow and the behavior of individuals living in the city, and most certainly in the way of business interactions and the engagement with customers before & after sales.

What are then the concerns for the public in the advancement of digital technology?

'Privacy, of course,' said Professor Edwards and later mentioned Privacy by Design and a further adaptation of Copenhagen Privacy Principles.

'What happens when the system breaks down?' As the complexity in digital technology increases, it is likely to become more vulnerable to cyber-attack or breach in security. 'Fundamentally what is then the default of the system?'

The panelists were then questioned from the audience if current infrastructure and technology are in-sync or progress at suitable pace for sustainable growth, the panelists unanimously agreed that neither developed nor developing nations are currently equipped to do so.

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