Growing Pains: The Re-Emergence of the City-State
Wu Choy Peng, assistant chief executive with Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, oversees the city's IT master plan.
PORTRAIT BY CAROLINE LAN
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF THE CITY-STATE
While all cities share similar angst in growing, each has its unique culture, politics and pace. The more dynamic, well-educated and mobile the populace, the more urban development becomes a fine art. As physical limits are reached, urban sprawl is ceding its reign of dominance to a renaissance of the city as a power unto itself.
How cities are adapting is a study in how prepared they are to manage their own growth. Through experience and applied expertise, some have become so capable and adept in dealing with their own unique set of problems that they have emerged as city-states, where management frequently is self-determined.
Although radically different projects in scope and definition, San Diego, Singapore and Hong Kong—all world-class cities—approach urban development with a project-minded vision. They develop strong plans that are flexible and adaptable and are backed by relative autonomy and freedom from political nitpicking. They constantly reassess their budgets, resolve technical problems and don't let problems fester.
BY EMILY SOPENSKI
This aerial photo of San Diego shows how geography prohibits the city from spreading.
SOURCE: NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
San Diego—City that Shapes a County
San Diego, Calif., USA, is experiencing gigantic increases in its population, which is 43 percent of the county's 2.8 million. “We expect the city to grow by half a million in the next 20 years,” says Gail Goldberg, San Diego planning director. “San Diego's economy out-performs Los Angeles', California's and the nation's because of its diversified economy.” According to the San Diego Association of Governments, the county recorded 44,200 new jobs between 1999 and 2000. With only 5,000 to 6,000 residential units built each year in all price ranges—roughly half of what is needed—the city faces a housing crisis.
Urban sprawl was never an option with San Diego. Hemmed in by natural barriers, such as the canyons that separate many of the city's existing neighborhoods, San Diego also is subject to California's strict environmental rules, and, according to Goldberg, less than 10 percent of city land remains undeveloped.
Embracing aspects of traditional smart-growth strategies, Goldberg's office espouses housing developments with walkable village centers, high density and mixed usage. To speed implementation of projects, the city spends more time in the planning process; each village participates in its own development. The city and the villages do everything possible to prepare before a developer enters the picture. Staff has discretionary signoff so policymakers do not have to intervene. Projects that “densify” the neighborhood are fast-tracked.
Finding the happy balance of control with valuable input is a challenge, but at least the process minimizes the surprises that often plague a project otherwise blessed with widespread acceptance.
Singapore—Short on Land, Long on Innovation
Singapore, both a city and a nation, sits on less than 660 sq km of land nestled between Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeast Asia. Population density is over 5,000 per square kilometer. Contrast that with a density of just under 700 for Taiwan, another small Asian island with a large population.
In the 1970s, Singapore believed it could support a maximum population of 2.5 million. Yet now there are almost 4 million in Singapore on land roughly 3.5 times the size of Washington, D.C., USA.
“Land usage in Singapore is a very serious and important issue,” explains Paul Sim, managing director of The York Group's Singapore office, a Paris-based company for internationalizing technology solutions. “Because land is scarce, housing is expensive. Eighty percent of the population lives in high-rise housing. Building roads for cars is very expensive, too, thus the prices of cars in Singapore are the highest in the world. Even water has to be imported from Malaysia as we do not have room for large reservoirs.”
In response to a plummeting birthrate resulting from a 40-year-old government campaign to limit families to two children, Singapore reversed population control policies. Changes in technology enabled the government to liberalize immigration laws when it found ways to support a larger population.
This well-educated populace has helped Singapore achieve recognition worldwide for implementing technological solutions to address infrastructure issues. The city has long invested in technologies that help manage the land and control traffic. For example, its mass transit network consists of 91 km of track of which almost 8 km are dedicated to a light rail transit (LRT) system. All LRT trains and stations are unmanned. Almost all of the city's 18,000 taxis are equipped with global positioning systems that allow the four cab companies to automatically dispatch their respective vehicles.
Dependent on its open trade borders, relative economic stability and electronics manufacturing, Singapore looked toward technology to reach its goal of becoming the world's most wired city. It is harnessing information and communication technologies (ICT) to the benefit of the economy and citizens. The goal is for the city-state to be among the world's premiere economies.
Aerial view of site where 5,000 houses will be erected in 18 months to help meet Puerto Rico's affordable housing needs.
In a highly innovative, fast-track project, Puerto Rico engaged with Eagle Building Technologies Inc., based in Boca Raton, Fla., USA, to help solve the island commonwealth's housing crisis.
“Since the 1990's, construction has been the most dynamic sector and a backbone of Puerto Rico's economy, growing faster than most other sectors,” says Jose L. Carmona, a Caribbean Business reporter whose beat is Puerto Rico. This growth, however, is lopsided in favor of high-end residences. The acute shortage of affordable housing results from a lack of financial incentives for private developers, says Carmona. To meet the needs of her people, Puerto Rican Governor Sila Calderon pledged to construct 50,000 public housing units over the next four years.
Eagle's technology and equipment have the capacity to produce 600,000 masonry blocks per month—or 600 homes.
Buyers are already preapproved by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Banking Housing Administration of Puerto Rico (Banco de Vivienda de Puerto Rico).
The first phase consists of 5,000 homes, each 83.6 to 92.9 sq m, to be built utilizing Eagle's patented technology for manufacturing building blocks using local materials, local labor and produced onsite. Commissioned by the Departments of Housing, Urban Development, and Planning and Engineering, Eagle's technology will be executed by DynCorp Inc., Reston, Va., USA.
Coaxed out of retirement by the chairman of Eagle BT, Anthony D'Amato joined the company early in 2001. He played a crucial role in fostering the strategic alliance with DynCorp to provide program management for the construction of the dwellings over the next 18 months.
While political pledges often are forgotten or compromised, the US$340 million agreement with Eagle BT proves that some projects with political underpinnings can happen quickly. Beginning in June 2001, Paul-Emile Desrosiers, now the company's president and CEO, made good use of his huge network of global contacts developed for both the U.S. Department of State and the United Nations.
“I created a business plan to target our market,” says Desrosiers. “It's something that Eagle didn't know how to do. Then, I organized a dinner with 550 invitees in June where we gave a 10-minute speech.”
Obtaining agreement with the Puerto Rican government was accomplished in record time. The dinner netted interest from three governments (Puerto Rico, Argentina and Chile) and agreements with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the General Services Administration—all by Fall 2001.
“I believe in word of mouth,” states Desrosiers. “For us, it worked out pretty well. [However,] the plan to get it done is quite extensive.”
Pete Phelan, DynCorp's manager for this project, outlines the key ingredients that ensure project success: “We have the full cooperation of the government, a sound commercial footing and individual homeowner funding of the respective properties with individual federal loan-backing and approval. In addition, we are building a reasonable home for the money in a market that is both highly overpriced and where the demand exceeds the supply.”
MILESTONES IN THE EVOLUTION OF SINGAPORE ONE
Singapore's goal is to be an information communications hub, a vital node in the global Infocomm network, and to enhance the quality of life for residents. Singapore ONE is a broadband infrastructure that services homes, businesses and schools throughout the island.
Source: Singapore ONE Web site (www.s-one.gov.sg/overview/evo01.html)
“As a business person using the Internet constantly, it helps,” explains Sim. “It is a way of life now in Singapore to be Internet savvy. A working person or student without an e-mail address is considered strange.”
Initially dubbed IT2000 in 1992, the nation's ICT plan was superceded in 1999 by Infocomm 21. Part of both plans is Singapore ONE, Singapore's initiative to bring broadband access to every citizen. Considered critical to international competitiveness, the Singapore ONE project is a well-funded national initiative.
Working with the private sector companies to facilitate development of the network and services, government assistance includes financial support schemes, technical support and market development through IT education programs.
By the end of 2001, 99 percent of Singapore's homes, all schools, and most offices, public libraries and community centers were connected to the broadband network, which has more than 350,000 users. To eliminate traveling to government offices, over 170 public services are available online, including registering for licenses and school. Forty percent of Singaporeans file their tax returns online.
Nonetheless, growth in broadband usage is slower than anticipated, in part because the cost to users is still considered high. In response, the government accelerated privatization to encourage competition. Built by a statutory board, then owned by a consortium of government-related Internet service providers, 1-Net, a network backbone service provider, is now privately owned by MediaCorp Singapore.
“We do not know what the future will bring, or what technology will enable,” says Wu Choy Peng, assistant chief executive for Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore's (IDA's) government systems. “But what we do know and consciously pursue is the philosophy that infrastructure capability must always be ahead of requirements. This, coupled with top-level commitment in all our government IT infrastructure initiatives and well-structured governance framework, provides the platform that drives the government, industry and citizens to work together in developing Singapore into a world-class city.” As the CIO and CTO for the Singapore government, Wu is in charge of the IT master plan for Singapore.
Johnson Fain Partners' 3-D model of its design for Beijing's central business district is shown. With a population of 5 million in the city and another 5.9 million on the outskirts, Beijing is almost a country in itself. The CBD, already home to more than 120 of the world's Top 500 enterprises, is in the central eastern part of Beijing, encompassed by Xidawang Road to Dongdaqiao Road (east-west perimeters) and flanked by Tonghui River and Chaoyang Road (south-north boundaries) for a total area of approximately 4 sq km. The focal point is the core “Gold Cross” area that overlaps with JianGuoMen- Wai Road and East Third Ring Road.
A WINNING DESIGN
Beijing, a 1,100-year-old city, is getting a makeover. In anticipation of gaining World Trade Organization (WTO) admission, Beijing officials invited eight internationally recognized firms to compete in redesigning the Central Business District (CBD). Los Angeles-based Johnson Fain Partners, an urban design and architecture firm, won the prestigious three-month-long competition and was awarded US$200,000 in 2001.
“In the last 50 years during a government-run economy, Beijing did not develop a modern downtown like other world-class cities,” says William H. Fain, Jr., head of urban design for Johnson Fain Partners, where he directs all master planning and urban design projects for the company. “Without a doubt, designing the CBD plan is as significant to Beijing today as plans for Paris and London were in the 18th and 19th centuries.” Fain's work includes such renowned projects as the 300-acre Mission Bay community in San Francisco.
The firm's advantages going into the competition included:
▪ A staff including three fluent Mandarin Chinese speakers attuned to Chinese culture
▪ City officials familiar with the company's work in China
▪ A plan grounded in traditional Chinese planning principles, including sun access and axial symmetry
▪ A plan for more than 9.29 million sq m of mixed-use development, including a range of cultural uses, and more than 500 different buildings anchored by a central “city within a city” that features a landmark 140-story skyscraper
▪ Complete computer tracking from day one.
A short, fast-track project often has moments of intensity. Even for a seasoned firm like Johnson Fain Partners, that moment of challenge came midway into the project when the Beijing officials requested an add-on requirement.
“They told us they wanted a video,” says Stephen Levine, a Johnson Fain Partners senior associate and frequent project leader. “We were fortunate to be in Los Angeles where we could quickly find a voice-over artist to narrate the video. Then we scripted a video based on our 3-D modeling. In less than a week we had a video produced for under $10K.”
Other problems were:
▪ The 16-hour time difference
▪ Little time in the three-month project to manufacture the huge 12-sq-m 3-D rendition, when it takes a month just to mold the plastics
▪ The need for a literal model, one that included every window.
“We won because we looked at traditional Chinese patterns of city building and built on those traditions,” says Levine. “We incorporated axial relationships with the sun and moon. The number of parks in the design is eight—a very lucky number in China. We incorporated cultural values into the design and buildings.”
There are more than six million people in Hong Kong; about 1.3 million live on Hong Kong Island, around 2 million in mainland Kowloon, and the remainder in the New Territories and Outlying Islands, according to Asia Travel (www.asiatravel.com). Kowloon, although only 45.5 sq km, is flatter and therefore more urbanized.
SOURCE: NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
Hong Kong—Fast Growth Imposes New Restrictions
As if informed vigilance were not a full time job for any world city's officials, environmental demands coupled with an increasingly well-educated and informed citizenry challenge even the most reasoned of projects.
Enjoying a long streak of economic prosperity, Hong Kong has been the home for many multibillion-dollar infrastructure improvements. The Airport Core Program, which included building the new Chek Lap Kok airport as well as the roads and rails to get there, was completed in 1998.
Almost immediately afterward, construction began on the 30.5-kilometer West Rail line to link the fast-growing urban population from Kowloon with the outlying regions. The US$6.5 billion project is the country's largest since the Airport Core Program. Between tunneling 11.5 km through the granite hills and building viaducts over low-lying lands, engineers were faced with stringent noise abatement ordinances.
Housing was already sprouting up to support the 1.4 million people projected to inhabit the New Territories by 2011. Sound barriers were erected to protect local residents in high-rise apartment buildings near the tunnel excavations. Specially designed concrete parapets were constructed to minimize the sound from trains that would be operating in the well-developed areas. Fortunately, contractors already had recent experience with a nearby highway tunnel through similar geologic conditions.
To accommodate these constraints as well as the planned high capacity for the rail—the rail line is expected to run 33 trains per hour, spaced 105 seconds apart, moving up to 100,000 people—the project's design phase lasted six months longer than originally planned.
Planning for the West Rail line began in the mid-1990s. But by 1998, officials faced soaring cost estimates. By reducing the number of cars per train from 11 to nine, they were able to shave 75 m from the length of the platforms. Almost US$700 million was saved as a result. Further, construction contracts all contained value engineering clauses that shared any savings realized with the contractor.
Despite delays and budget constraints, the project is still scheduled for on-time completion in 2003. PM
Emily Sopensky is a freelance writer and journalist based in Austin, Texas, USA, who frequently focuses on the business of technology. Formerly, she served as a planning and budgeting administrator for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, USA.
Roughly 2.8 billion people live in cities, according to The State of World Population 2001, a new report from the United Nations Population Fund. By 2015, that number will have risen to 3.9 billion, nearly three-quarters of them in the developing world. In 2015, there will be 23 mega-cities—those with 10 million or more residents—compared with only five in 1975. Big cities often have big problems with pollution, water scarcity and poverty, so better planning will be vital in this new urban world.
Projected Population in 2015 in millions
PM NETWORK | FEBRUARY 2002 | www.pmi.org
FEBRUARY 2002 | PM NETWORK