Smart Cities

SMART City Development

Smart cities are cities that leverage data and technology to deliver services to improve the well-being of citizens while staying sustainable. They address challenges and make improvements to functional segments of a city through a network of connectivity across systems, devices and objects (known as the Internet of Things). It is predicted that there will be at least 88 smart cities worldwide by 2025, and Asia-Pacific will account for 32 of them. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set 17 goals and 169 targets relating to international development and have the development of smart cities as a principal focus. The on-going attention given to sustainable living on a worldwide scale thrust the Smart City development and agenda into a sharper focus more than ever before.

The United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects (2018) reported that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, and Africa and Asia will be the fastest-growing continents. Already home to 55 percent of the world’s urban population, Asia will see this proportion expanding to 64 percent by 2050. Within the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo is the world’s largest city with an agglomeration of 37 million inhabitants, followed by Delhi with 29 million, Shanghai with 26 million and Mumbai, Beijing and Dhaka all have close to 20 million inhabitants. Managing urban areas and building sustainable cities has become one of the most important development challenges of the 21st century. As such, the focus on developing smart cities have gained momentum  due to increased urbanisation and rising global pressures to remain economically viable in the face of scarce resources.

Given such a context, the CITBA seeks to engage researchers and practitioners in various aspects of Smart City development and challenges that focus on the following:

  • Diverse approaches and mechanisms customized in a country’s developmental context, towards smart city development that are in line with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Types of business opportunities for companies looking to tap into emerging market segments – especially in the areas of digital government services, efficient energy use and renewables, water and waste management (e.g. plastic waste management), transportation, education and healthcare.
  • Smart Cities are investing more money and resources into security, while tech companies are creating solutions with new built-in mechanisms to protect against hacking and cyber-crimes. As IoT and sensor technology use expands, so does the threat level to security. This begs the question - is technology really considered “smart” if hackers can break into it and shut down an entire city?
  • Challenges faced in smart city adoption, development and implementation – these might entail cities to leverage on the key enablers such as training and education, viable funding mechanism and collaborative partnership, and strong emphasis to enhance digital infrastructure and systems.
  • Issue of social inclusion: Smart transit programs that give riders real-time updates are a great idea for a bustling city. But what if half the population of that city cannot afford to take mass transit or Uber? What about a growing elderly population that does not use mobile devices or apps? How will smart technology reach and benefit these groups of people?
  • The roles played by MNCs and SMEs  in helping to solve challenges pertaining to smart city development as well as private-public partnership with research institutions and institutions of higher learning.
  • What is the role of human capital in the Smart City development goals? What are the types of platform for learning, experience and exchange that can be created to strengthen dialogues and exchanges in smart city development and create opportunities for business partnerships and collaborations?
  • Smart cities lacks a systematic understanding of the different components of smart city governance, the metrics to measure these components, their envisaged outcomes and potential contextual factors influencing both components as well as outcomes. The lack of appropriate governance arrangements for the majority of cities appears to constitute the most serious obstacle for their effective transformation into being smart.
  • Suggested framework to guide cities from the formulation of action plan, to actual implementation of smart city strategies. A framework is useful and important in guiding the cities with application and implementation of urban data and technology, as cities share the vision towards economic growth, sustainable environment and high quality of life for their people.
  • The transformation into a smart city requires more than investment and access to capital; it needs appropriate design and technology standardisation, along with planning and collaboration across departments and industries.

For further information on the Smart City Development and Challenges research being conducted by CITBA please contact Dr. Caroline Wong at


By Dr Jacob Wood, Dr Caroline Wong and Ms Swathi Paturi

Urban agriculture is becoming the next big thing for SMART cities that are resource-constrained and densely populated. Dickson Despommier, who wrote The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, hinted that by 2050, an estimated 109 hectares of new land would be needed to grow enough food to feed the extra 3 billion mouths around then. By then, 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centres. According to Despommier, the future of agriculture lies in using vertical farms by growing soil-less using techniques such as hydroponics, aeroponics and drip irrigation. The market for urban farming is forecast to grow to $20bn by 2020.

A recent study conducted by CITBA researchers entitled Urban Farming: An Assessment of Singapore examines urban farming in particular the use of vertical farming methods to overcome food safety and land resource issues, while also providing sustainable living environments that manage the threats posed by rapid urbanization. With technological developments in hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics, vertical farming has become a much more efficient and affordable means of farming in urban spaces. Overall, these high-tech systems signify a paradigm shift in the way that farming and food production can be operationalised.

Singapore’s technological industry capabilities along with effective policy support from the government to achieve food security has enabled the country to be positioned as a pioneer in the agri-food tech sector in Asia (Low, 2019). The collaboration between government, commercial firms as well as research institutions has gathered momentum through the "30 by 30" goal, which seeks to produce 30 percent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.

image or terraced plants

The success of Sky Green’s vertical farming lies in its value proposition as a scalable, cheap, low-carbon footprint vertical-farming system that requires minuscule electricity, water, and manpower for land-scarce, urban cities.  Future vertical farms could be located in rooftops, barren land and run-down field sites (such as warehouses) thereby revitalising neglected city areas and yield economic and social benefits, as well as promote employment and well-being. Its potential for urban regeneration looks promising.

image of terraced plants

The recognition of these forms of innovative farming (shown through the winning of the INDEX award in 2015, the biggest design award in the world commonly referred to as the 'Nobel Prize’ of design) together with the potential for future expansion indicates that vertical farming could become a powerful solution for sustainable agriculture in Singapore.

Singapore’s developmental process in urban farming started with community gardens, before then graduating to citizen farms and then rooftop farming and larger scale commercial production. Such recent developments could become a good model for other cities aspiring to adopt vertical farming. The success is a result of support from the government and collaboration between the private and public sectors. Hence, cities or countries planning to incorporate modern methods of urban farming need to do considerable research or work with research institutions to optimise their operations. There is also a need to consider the various challenges associated with urban farming as discussed in earlier section.

The analysis shows that Singapore, a SMART tropical city in Asia, is making big strides in vertical farming with substantial public and private investment in R&D through high-tech, high-producing, land-limited farms in high-rise buildings. This is not withstanding the challenges that Singapore faced in a highly constrained urban environment where land scarcity is exacerbated by a complex, regulatory legislative framework related to land use.

By Dr Caroline Wong, Dr Jacob Wood and Ms Swathi Paturi

This study seeks to understand the governance of waste management in a smart city like Singapore. It critically reviews the various approaches undertaken by the Singapore Government to align its waste management efforts with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promulgated by the UN in its 2030 Agenda. It also examines the role of other important stakeholders such as businesses and start-ups in the private sector, as well as the so-called “informal sector”, NGOs and the wider community in managing waste. The question remains if Singapore, a first-world country and smart nation has done enough to manage its waste.

In Singapore, the Smart Nation initiative is set out to transform the country. Technological advancements will drive waste management practices and development of a world-class city. In order to do this, the Government needs to ensure the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. It must also reduce the amount of waste it generates in an effort to create a more circular driven economy. Singapore has taken some important first steps in raising awareness about the need to implement plastic and e-waste management practises, which are closely linked to the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda. While it has a zero-waste master plan in place, it has yet to arrive at that stage. It is a nation in transition. To tackle its plastic and e-waste challenges, Singapore can do more to take on a stronger role to promote research, development and innovation in new recycling technologies. In addition to this, it can also support the development of regional capabilities in the ASEAN region through its technological know-how and R&D capabilities.  The collection of plastic waste and recycling is a very regional/global effort.

recycling bin on street

Finally, the onus is on the Singapore government to work with different stakeholders including the research institutions and local communities to develop effective recycling plans that are simple to implement. In order to do this, consideration have to be given to ensure sustainable urban planning, the collection and safe disposal of solid waste, minimizing toxic materials, waste and pollutants throughout the entire production/consumption cycle. It is not so much about having a marginal increase in recycling rates, but really about a paradigm shift in the way the country perceives plastics and waste in general. It is about managing waste in a smart way.

stock image of recycling bin