‘Smart’ and ‘sustainable’ cities seem to be the new catchphrase describing cities of the future and the role of technology takes centre stage in such narratives, manifesting itself through technological networks that mediate the flows and flux between nature and the city (Kaika and Swyngedouw, 2000). While the role of technology does seem all encompassing, as the visit to The Crystal has surfaced, I can’t help but think if technology is indeed the be-all to cities of the future.
Fig 1: Future Singapore where technological networks takes centre stage (source: Straits Times, 2017)
I will explore Singapore’s planning considerations towards a ‘sustainable’ city future, exploring the roles that technology plays in contributing towards this narrative (Fig 1), but more importantly, highlighting non-technical aspects such as community-centric considerations that places the community and a sense of identity in the midst of future developments (URA, 2012).
Technological networks have enabled the transformation of sanitary to sustainable cities, making them more resilient to environmental changes (Pickett et al., 2013). Examples in Singapore includes reclaimed water (showcased in The Crystal and my previous post); eco-towns that rely on the flows of green energy to provide for the daily lives of residents; the rolling out of electric car sharing to cut down on carbon emissions and even the erection of gantries moderating the flow of vehicles and encouraging a car-lite lifestyle (Olszewski, 2007). Indeed, these technological networks sets the city up as a ‘process of transformed nature’ and eases the metabolic and social transformation of nature into our everyday lives, through which making us more resilient to changes in the environment that may hamper our everyday activities.
But is technology key to sustainability? As cities become increasingly urbanized, its boundaries become increasingly porous to flows of people and cultures. This makes sustainable development more than infrastructures and preserving the environment as we also consider building cohesive communities and preserving local identities and cultures (URA, 2012). (e.g. housing policies; built and natural heritage) This is an important aspect that is missing out in many literature solely focusing on the role of technology in sustainable development, but is particularly important in global cities (e.g. London and Tokyo) where the flows of people and ideas are increasingly prevalent and may potentially result in conflicts.
Fig 2: Softer approaches to sustainability (source: URA, 2012)
My stand is that while technology is definitely an important aspect of sustainable development, we cannot forget the softer measures (Fig 2) that are also in place to metabolise the myriad flows through the city so as to ensure the smooth functioning of these future cities as one system; as well as to create a greater sense of ownership towards these unseen flows as discussed in previous posts on water and animals.
Kaika, M. and E. Swyngedouw (2000) ‘Fetishizing the modern city: the phantasmagoria of urban technological networks’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 24.1, 120-138.
Olszewski, P. S. (2007) ‘Singapore motorisation restraint and its implications on travel behaviour and urban sustainability’, Transportation, 34, 319-335.
Pickett, S. T. A., C. G. Boone, B. P. McGrath, M. L. Cadenasso, D. L. Childers, L. A. Ogden, M. McHale and J. M. Grove (2013) ‘Ecological science and transformation to the sustainable city’, Cities, 32, 10-20.
URA (2012) ‘Designing our City – Planning for a sustainable Singapore’, Singapore: URA supplement.