How to Fall in Love with your Smart City

Jul 19, 2018

DesignSingapore Council’s Executive Director Mark Wee opened the Shape the World Conference 2018 at the National Design Centre on 6 July 2018. With the theme of “Designing Sustainable & Smart Cities for ASEAN”, the conference brought developers, urban planners and architects together to discuss opportunities to implement unique and viable strategies for urban transformation in the region.

In his opening speech, Mark points out that if we want to create successful smart cities that are embraced and owned by citizens, we need to make our cities loveable, by design.

Mark Speacking at Sahape the World Conference 2018

A good morning to you. I’m really happy to open today’s conference because it will discuss many issues that are important to us today and the future. 

I wanted to start off by asking you: What is your vision of Smart Cities of the future?

Is it a dystopian one – a high-tech Bladerunner-esque world where you can’t tell humans from bots – and neither can they.

Or this? A future where people are connected very much in a physical world. One where technology has disappeared into the background, allowing us to connect seamlessly while anticipating our needs, and eliminating inconveniences

For Singapore, with regards to our future, we have bold plans to be the world’s first smart nation, by design.

Our design 2025 masterplan sets out an ambitious vision – of wanting to become a thriving innovation-driven economy and a loveable city by design.

skp shape the world 

Graphic Recording of Shape the World Conference by Sketch Post

I think the phrase “innovation-driven economy” is easily understood by most people today. In today’s age of disruption, this innovation-driven economy is invariably tied to smart tech.

What about the loveable part? Well someone said that Love is something that is hard to describe, but you know it when you encounter or feel it.

To Dsg, a Loveable City means a city that is thoughtfully designed,  fosters shared memories and emotional connections, and co-creates with its citizens so as to foster ownership, pride, and a sense of identity. All this through a coming together of small and crafted moments, shaped by human interactions, played out in a city-in-a-garden, and facilitated by technology.

Design thoughtfully

Thoughtful design is really the paying of attention to not just the obvious and large, but also the little and possibly overlooked details, or touchpoints, of a person’s experience.

 enabling village  

Enabling Village, Design of the Year, 2016 President*s Design Award

Thoughtful design can include physical designs that are accessible for all, such as the Enabling Village in Redhill. Besides converting a steep slope into an amphitheatre with a gentle ramp for wheelchair users, the architects also designed a supermarket (with extra wide aisles for wheelchairs), a pre-school (for all abilities) and even a gym (with facilities for seniors, abled bodied and disabled) –  all of which are opepullqouten to public.

Thoughtful design also includes human-centric public services or policies. In the Ministry of Communications and Information’s recently announced Digital Readiness Blueprint, we are going to be intentional about promoting digital inclusion by design. This means designing apps, websites and other digital initiatives to be easy to use and adopted. It also means reviewing policies and regulations through a human-centric lens.

Be emotionally connected

Loveable also means to be emotionally connected. Such as designing places that promote social interactions such as the Goodlife!Makan community kitchen. Located at the void deck of a block in Marine Parade, it brings seniors together daily to cook and chat.

The revitalised Bishan-AMK park is another good example. Here, technology and design work together to bring us back to our forgotten childhood where we relive some of the joys of kampung life. Biodiversity is also thriving in the park and it has become a home for the otters and other wildlife.


Courtesy of Otterwatch

In fact, the otters’ growing population has spawned a group of otter lovers called the Otterwatch who take turns to look out for the otters. Some of the members have even created an app to collate sightings of the otters among them!

Earlier in March during our Brainstorm Design conference, Thomas Heatherwick reminded the audience to inject soulfulness in every design because “we all hanker after places with heart and soul.”

I sent Thomas a copy of Winifred Gallager’s The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions after his team won the bid to design Terminal 5.

I wanted to let him know that there were many people, including me, who loved living in the east, and so it was important for him to try to understand and capture that spirit, or soul, of the area.

Co-create common identity

A loveable city very importantly means a city that encourages its residents to co-create so there is greater ownership and identity. 

This surely can only be achieved with a deep understanding of their needs and desires

Participate in Design (P!D), one of our tenants here at the National Design Centre, is attempting to do just that. A non-profit design, planning and educational organisation, it helps neighbourhoods and public institutions design community-owned spaces and solutions.

Last year, they worked with Tampines Town Council to engage 4,000 residents and stakeholders to plan and re-design Tampines North, via a participatory design approach. You can check out their website for videos and case studies of their work here.

By aiming to be a loveable city, we are also ensuring the success of a Smart Nation that is embraced and owned by citizens.

For me, I envision that in 2025, I’ll be strolling along East Coast Park listening to the ocean, while organising the week ahead with Siri’s suggestions – even as Siri tells me the fridge’s been restocked. My wife, who is overseas, calls and her hologram pops up. She chats and walks with me, while I order food on the go and it comes delivered via a drone.

At Dsg, we believe that design will can help us get to our goal.

Because a designer puts the human at the centre of the experience – whether it’s planning roads, parks, homes, or malls infused with smart tech.

Today at this conference – there’s no need to preach to the choir – to convince you that designers and having a design mindset are important.

But as an architect, who pivoted into experience design a decade ago, I think where we need to do better is to be more willing to collaborate with designers from other disciplines – and even professionals from other fields such as technologists and data scientists.

Two days ago, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister-in-charge of Public Service, highlighted the need for design and systems thinking.

He also called for public officers to collaborate. He said: “Collaboration starts from the basic premise that we have the humility to admit and accept that we can't do it alone.”

I believe there are innovations waiting to be realised when collaborations happen and I wish you all a fruitful time today to discuss how we can transform our ASEAN cities into innovative and loveable ones!


Written on : 19 Jul 2018

Media Room