Smart Growth, Symbiotic Growth and Sustainable Growth are the goals of the SGConnect legacy project aimed at ensuring that the region’s cities grow in a manner which is sustainable, economically viable and citizen friendly.
Over the past four years, the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) has spearheaded a series of what are known as “Legacy Projects” aimed at facilitating regional economic integration amongst all, and now is addressing the expected pressures and challenges from rapid urbanization in the future.
The first of the projects launched in 2015 was Growth Accelerator Exchange (GAX) to provide access for technology-driven micro, small and medium-sized enterprises to financial ecosystems and announced in Malaysia, followed a year later by LaosConnect, the ASEAN multimodal trans-shipment hub.
In 2017, two projects were launched; MaritimeConnect, a roll-on, roll-off network to reduce shipping time, and the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurship Network, or AMEN.
This year it was Singapore’s turn with Smart Growth Connect,or SGConnect, aimed at allowing cities to grow intelligently, yet painlessly, as the bloc’s urban centres expand due to population increases.
With the ASEAN 2018 theme of “Resilience and Innovation”, ASEAN BAC intends to sponsor and carry out supporting initiatives aimed at “Building Tomorrow, Connecting Today”.
SGConnect aims to pilot what are called “Smart Growth Centres” in each of the member states, with each developing from its own level of technological sophistication and human capital abilities, but similar in resource productivity and efficiency to serve the local population.
According to ASEAN BAC officials, the pilot programme is exactly what is needed at this time as ASEAN consumers are modernising at a quicker rate than the bloc’s businesses and infrastructure can manage, with demands triggering stronger socioeconomic pressure on both land and data infrastructure.
Businesses find it hard to keep pace with the desire by consumers to enjoy fast and flexible access to goods and services as infrastructure capacity becomes overwhelmed.
The officials wisely caution that even though each ASEAN member state faces the same issues, the requirements for public policy and city planning cannot be standardised across this heterogeneous region and applied en masse. So the big challenge is to work in close cooperation with the overriding goal of achieving inclusive growth and economic prosperity for all.
The Smart Growth Centre pilot project which is to be up and running in each ASEAN member state by 2025.
Each of the centres, say ABAC officials, is to be located on the outskirts of a city, ideally with half of the urban population to be of working age between 15 and 64 years old.
Other conditions call for the centres to be connected to city highways and access roads; have access to reliable data infrastructure and an uninterrupted power supply; connected to railways, seaports or airports; and possess a ring fenced land allocation of 10 to 50 hectares to allow for training and distribution centres.
The Smart Growth Centres are designed to distribute and manage a wide range of different products to efficiently maximise distribution practices through data-enhanced, real-time visibility of product movements as well as quality control.
City populations will therefore have access to safe goods such as food, and reliable and rapid services while enjoying congestion-free roads and highways along with the minimum in air pollution and noise.
Officials predict that businesses will not be constrained by a city’s existing infrastructure and urban planners will be able to continue upgrading the infrastructure while taking into account sustainable growth, instead of less beneficial short-term congestion relief measures.
“SGConnect speaks to the challenge embraced by ASEAN BAC to focus work around delivering adaptable solutions that are relevant and suitable for the respective state’s technology and capability maturity,” says Dr Robert Yap, Chair ASEAN BAC 2018. “In so doing, symbiotic growth could be achieved as each ASEAN state would be able to ‘grow without growing pains’, be connected physically and virtually so that the ten states can leverage each other’s unique strengths and grow together as a multicultural region”.
SGConnect is a natural project for ASEAN BAC which was announced by the regional bloc’s heads of state and government in 2001 and launched two years later. Its brief is to provide private sector feedback and advice to promote ASEAN’s ambitions towards economic integration.
Along with giving feedback from the private sector on implementing ASEAN economic cooperation, ASEAN BAC also pinpoints priority areas for consideration by the bloc’s leaders. The council’s efforts are mostly concentrated on reviewing and identifying issues to ease and promote economic cooperation and integration amongst the member states.
According to ASEAN BAC officials, its mission is to, “take the lead in coordinating inputs from established business councils and entities in their interactions with various ASEAN sector groups; harness the collective resources of the private sector, an implement a more inclusive and consultative process involving the private sector.”
In addition, ASEAN BAC should “assist relevant ASEAN bodies to institutionalise within each body a consultative process with lead private sector entities, and assist private sector groups to initiate projects.”
Of the ten ASEAN member states it is logical that Singapore would be so heavily involved in SGConnect as the city-state has a sterling reputation for being a smart city. Last year, the Easy Park Group surveyed 500 global candidates for its Smart Cities Index and Singapore was awarded second place, after top city Copenhagen.
The index used 19 separate qualifiers and Singapore scored highly in such categories as digitalization, transport and mobility, sustainability, governance, economic innovation and living standards.
In another list, put together last year by the Berlin-based property website Nestpick, Singapore was chosen as best city for start-ups because of its government support for business, quality of life, cost of living and salary rates.
Singapore’s ambitions in this regard start at the top, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spelling it all out in a speech last year, when he said: “Our vision is for Singapore to be a Smart Nation, a nation where people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all.
“We should see it in our daily living where networks of sensors and smart devices enable us to live sustainably and comfortably. We should see it in our communities where technology will enable more people to connect to one another more easily and intensely. We should see it in our future where we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible.”
And with SGConnect, this vision could become reality in every one of the ten ASEAN member states providing a clean, sustainable, connected and innovative urban environment for all citizens.