Need to keep cities liveable, sustainable (The Straits Times, Tuesday 3 July 2012)

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Need to keep cities liveable, sustainable

Impending urban explosion requires long-term planning, experts note

By FENG ZENGKUN

CITIES are the way of the future, so more thought needs to go into planning them and keeping them liveable and sustainable.

That was the key message from world leaders, who tossed up ideas yesterday at two environment meetings at the Marina Bay Sands convention centre.

The events were part of the Singapore International Water Week, World Cities Summit and the inaugural CleanEnviro Summit which end by Thursday.

The number of megacities – urban areas with more than 10 million people – has grown from just four in 1980 to 21 today, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

By 2050, the United Nations estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities.

Coping with the stresses on infrastructure that this impending urban explosion will bring will involve some long-term planning, said government, industry and international organization representatives who spoke at the events.

Japan, for instance, is planning to build a high-speed train that would ferry citizens between Tokyo and Osaka in about an hour, said Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara. The cities are about 500km apart.

This would revive the waning Osaka and ease the pressure on Tokyo, he said.

But cities also need to be self-sufficient, said the panellists.

Dr Balakrishnan gave the exampIe of Singapore, which does not subsidise essentials such as power and water to impress upon citizens the need to conserve resources.

Instead, the Government gives the poor cash.

“People will then ask themselves, do I want to leave the tap running and pay more, and do I really want to buy more food if it will go to waste?” he said.

With large populations within a dense, urban environment, sustainability is vital. That involves everything from managing traffic to recycling and being prudent about energy use.

Dr Roland Busch, chief executive of infrastructure and cities at industrial conglomerate Siemens, said there could be road pricing systems that automatically respond to traffic conditions by adjusting toll charges.

Studies have also shown that good practices such as switching off lights when they are not needed could reduce buildings’ energy use by three times, said Mr Henri Proglio, chairman of global electric utility company Electricite de France.

Dr Balakrishnan said cities that provide a green and welcoming environment soothe their citizens and gain a competitive advantage.

“If you provide blue skies and clean streets, people will want to stay and invest in your economy,” he said.

The two meetings yesterday were part of a slate of high –profile events throughout the day, which included the Water Lecture by Dutch professor Mark van Loosdrecht, winner of this year’s Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize.

Prof van Loosdrecht was lauded for his work in removing pollutants from used water.

He received his award at a ceremony at Marina Bay Sands last night.

About 15,000 delegates are expected to attend the three summits this week, which will also include business forums and a round-table of water experts.

The closing dinner will be held in the Flower Dome conservatory at the new Gardens by the Bay tomorrow.

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