World Cities Summit 2021
Speech by Minister Josephine Teo at World Cities Summit 2021
22 Jul 2021
Smarter and Greener: Transforming Through Technology
Thank you for inviting me and congratulations to the Centre of Liveable Cities for once again organising the World Cities Summit.
The World Cities Summit has been running for 13 years.
- Its longevity is testament to the usefulness of us coming together to exchange insights and sharpen ideas on building better cities.
- There is much in common in the challenges we face and the aspirations we have.
- Yet no two cities are completely alike. The circumstances that shape us are different.
In this spirit of mutual learning, I am pleased to launch a joint publication between CLC and Tianjin’s Eco-City Administrative Committee titled, “A Partnership for A Smart and Sustainable Future: the China-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City”. * The Tianjin Eco City is second of three bilateral flagship projects Singapore has with China, all of which I’m privileged to have been part of. * The project broke ground in 2008. It was designed to demonstrate how cities can be built with environmental sustainability as a top priority, and how concepts can turn into reality. * Its experience was documented and published in 2018, on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. It received many positive responses. To broaden its reach and benefit more interested parties, an adapted English edition is being launched today. * I hope international readers will find this useful in learning more about Tianjin Eco-City and be inspired.
What Is A Smart City?
Every now and then, it’s usual to re-examine our ideas and assumptions of what makes a city “smart”.
Over the past decade, one recurring theme has been the use of digital technology. How can they help us design, build and run urban spaces more smartly?
- Some projects are fun to observe, and even if not particularly impactful, they do no harm.
- But really smart digital technologies are those that help us solve real-life problems, overcome constraints, improve people’s lives and help businesses thrive.
- This is why conversations on smartness are invariably organised around themes like healthcare, facilities management, transport.
- As a result, smart cities are associated with smart health, smart buildings, smart transport.
This makes sense. But for my sharing today, allow me to propose a different lens for seeing smart cities, along three dimensions:
- First, resilience. A smart city should be able to respond and adapt fast to new challenges, and unanticipated problems.
- Second, integration. A smart city should take an integrated approach to its use of resources, and in managing its environmental footprint.
- Third, building for the future. A smart city never stops investing in infrastructure to enable new engines of growth and innovation.
Let me elaborate, first on resilience.
- Globalisation, climate change and tech disruption mean that acity is subject to forces that are more volatile and unpredictable than before.
- There is no more dramatic example of this than COVID-19, which took all of us by surprise.
At the same time, many elements in a city cannot be changed so easily.
- It’s not just the physical infrastructure, but also the economic structures, the patterns of living that have been built up over time.
- Digital solutions can therefore add a dimension of speed and responsiveness to the city and give it a level of agility to adapt and adjust.
When COVID-19 hit Singapore’s shores in early 2020, we faced the logistical challenge of having to distribute masks to everyone in Singapore.
- Masks were in short supply then globally.
- The priority was to ensure our healthcare workers had uninterrupted access and were adequately protected.
- This meant a limited supply for the public.
- How do we make sure the distribution is fair and timely?
- Can we have a system to repeat the distribution exercise when supplies are replenished?
Our engineers took 4 days to develop an app called SupplyAlly, to track the nationwide mask distribution.
- This app allowed us to effectively orchestrate what could otherwise have been a messy logistical exercise.
- It assured the public that they would not be deprived of access.
- Since April last year, SupplyAlly has facilitated the distribution of 4.4 million masks to the public.
Another example is SafeEntry and TraceTogether.
- We all recognise that time is of the essence in contact tracing – the sooner close contacts are identified and quarantined, the lower the number of second- and subsequent-generation transmission of the virus.
- The problem is that interviewing all Covid positive cases is a laborious process.
- People do not also remember precisely who they interacted with, for how long.
With SafeEntry and TraceTogether, we have supplemented careful interviewing with data.
- This has helped the health ministry bring the time between exposure and quarantine, from more than four days to about 1.5 days or less.
- Without such tools, the virus would have spread farther and wider.
As a government, we also experimented with new ways to communicate with, and engage, the public.
- To reach out to youths more effectively, we are trying out the use of gamification through our collaborations with social media platforms.
- For example, users on TikTok can challenge others to determine the best ‘Covid Slayer’.
- The game also weaves in bite-sized vaccine-related facts to encourage users to get vaccinated.
Of course, digital tools cannot address all issues.
- Ultimately, it is the determination and cooperation of the public that have allowed us to weather the storm, and that will see us through the pandemic.
- But digital tools can help to disseminate information and counter fake news, deliver services with high assurance, and in the case of contact tracing, enable the public to collectively contribute to contact tracing.
- They can help make a city stronger in the face of a crisis.
Second, integrated management of resources.
Climate change is threatening the globe.
- Cities need to take climate action and manage resources sustainably, while still offering a high standard of living and good opportunities.
- This is why Singapore launched the Singapore Green Plan in February this year, to advance our national agenda on sustainable development.
Green technology has matured in various areas, such as in building management, solar generation and vehicular electrification.
- Many cities including Singapore are making use of these advancements.
- The challenge would be to go beyond specific applications of technology to examine whether the smartness in resource optimisation can be built in at a district or even city level.
This is where digitalisation and the judicious use of data can enable a new level of coordination and efficiency in planning, developing and running the city.
Take district cooling systems.
- By moving centralised cooling from the building to the district level, we can reap cost and energy savings.
- Such district cooling systems have already been deployed in the Marina Bay area and will be rolled out to new districts such as Punggol Digital District and Tengah.
- Data will be harnessed across the district, to enhance facilities management, and enable dynamic energy allocation.
Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is another example.
- The SP Group announced just such a trial in Singapore earlier this month.
- If it works, the batteries in electric vehicles can be dual-purposed as storage for the city’s electricity grid, to improve its reliability and allow it to better utilise intermittent solar power.
Thirdly, a smart city builds for the future.
Underlying infrastructure, like roads and utilities, make cities tick.
- By now, they don’t make headlines anymore.
- But they are still vital to support continued growth, continued economic, social, cultural and intellectual activities.
At the same time, new kinds of infrastructure must be built, to allow for transactions and activities in the digital space safely, securely, reliably.
What might make up such digital infrastructure?
First and foremost, digital identity.
- In Singapore, we use the National Digital Identity system, or Singpass, that provides identity assurance in transactions with the Government and businesses.
- You can even digitally sign insurance applications through Singpass.
- In Singapore, we built PayNow, which is open to all and free to use.
- You only need to know the recipient’s mobile number to make transfers, regardless of which local bank you bank with.
- We also launched a single QR code format for vendors to receive e-payments, to minimise confusion while allowing many e-payment solutions to compete and thrive.
Third, a cyber-physical platform such as the Open Digital Platform, that we are building for the Punggol Digital District.
- Think of this as an “operating system” for a smart district.
- This will allow for component smart systems to connect and to inter-operate, and for future applications to be incorporated in a modular manner.
Fourth and not least important of all, the cellular network.
- Our 5G standalone network is on track to roll out services very soon.
- It will not only bring faster speeds and higher reliability; but also enables new possibilities that can improve our quality of life, and power the digital economy.
In conclusion, please allow me to share a favourite quote of mine, by Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey. And he said “any sufficiently sophisticated technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
That’s surely a vision any smart nation can aspire to.
- Between vision and reality, there is still much to be done.
- Besides digital infrastructure, we also need a workforce uplifted by digital skills and businesses transformed by digital tools.
In the smart cities of the future, we will need
- a culture that supports the healthy challenging of the status quo
- we will need innovators who create new digital solutions, and
- bridge-builders who apply them to urban living
They will gather physically and virtually in forums like today’s to share views and sharpen each other’s thinking. I thank you all for your enthusiastic participation and wish you fruitful discussions. Thank you.
Mrs Josephine Teo
Minister for Communications and Information,
and Minister-in-Charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity