WCSC 2019 looks 20 years forward

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on October 10, 2019 - October 16, 2019.

Guest of honour Minister of Federal Territories Khalid Samad (seventh from left) with conference organising chairperson Ra Adrina (sixth from left) and other organisers and speakers of WCSC 2019

The conference was attended by about 550 participants who were made up of industry professionals, city managers, government agencies, academicians, residents’ groups, non-governmental organisations and city stakeholders

DBKL City Advisory Board member Khairiah Talha (left) moderating the panel discussion between (from left) Vermast, Bos and Moseley

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The 11th International Conference on World Class Sustainable Cities 2019 (WCSC 2019) was held in Kuala Lumpur on Sept 19 and saw about 550 participants, including industry professionals, city managers, government agencies, academicians, residents’ groups, non-governmental organisations and city stakeholders.

“Last year, the headline was the KL City Plan 2020 being gazetted. Today, the city is preparing for its KL City Plan 2020 to 2040, which is expected to be gazetted next year. This year’s conference theme, “Next: KL2040” highlights the importance of the next KL plan, which will provide a 20-year view for our city,” said organising committee chairperson Ra Adrina Muztaza in her welcome speech.

Guest of honour Khalid Samad, the minister of Federal Territories, in his opening address, highlighted that the new plan will provide guidelines for its implementation as well as the engagement of various parties for its realisation.

“The preparation of the Kuala Lumpur Local Plan 2040 will outline the local-level planning policy and strategy to be implemented. Kuala Lumpur Local Plan 2040 will provide detailed guidelines for planning control, and public and stakeholder participation will be conducted at all levels of studies through questionnaires, workshops, focus group discussions, design and town hall sessions,” he said.

He added that there is a need to address the housing affordability issue as well as how big data will be used for evidence-based planning and decision-making.

The conference saw speakers from Australia, the Netherlands, Singapore, China and Malaysia sharing their findings and analysis on various topics.

 

Melbourne’s plan to manage growth

Victorian Planning Authority CEO Stuart Moseley spoke on the topic of “Planning for a Growing Melbourne: How we are maintaining Melbourne’s World-Class Liveability”. He highlighted that the city is the main economic driver of the state, in which a quarter of Australia’s population resides. Three-quarters of that number resides in Melbourne.

There are 6.5 million people living in Victoria. The fastest-growing state in Australia is expected to see its population grow by 120,000 per year — last year, it grew by 140,000. Between 2016 and 2056, Victoria’s population is expected to grow by 5.2 million and that of Melbourne, by 4.5 million.

“This means that 1.5 million jobs are needed … and roughly 200 new houses every day for the next 40 years to house the incoming population,” said Moseley. The state’s population is growing from three sources — 30% from a natural increase, 10% from internal migration and the rest from overseas migration, he added.

Due to the projected growth and to ensure that Melbourne is able to manage the population and its resources, Plan Melbourne 2050 has been set up. It aims to increase the density along Melbourne’s rail and road corridor nodes as well as attempts to contain the urban sprawl up to 50km away.

To do this, 20-minute neighbourhoods will be created whereby residents would be able to walk, bus or cycle to work, school, health facilities and other amenities, all within 20 minutes.

“The challenge is how to put homes, jobs and services close together to reduce travel demand and make it easier for people to access more opportunities,” said Moseley.

Moreover, the cooperation of 31 town councils is required to implement the objectives of the plan, which will provide guidelines to ensure that Melbourne’s liveability and its resources will be well managed going forward.

 

Key components for a smart city

The second key speaker was Caroline Bos, co-founder and principal urban planner at UNStudio of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, who spoke on “New Urban Typologies — Envisioning the City of the Future”.

In her talk, she highlighted the Brainport Smart District, a public-private initiative aimed at developing a sustainable living neighbourhood. Under the project, every detail is looked at to ensure that the best possible outcome is obtained.

For instance, in the area of water conservation, attention is given to how water is collected, purified and distributed, its uses within the project and so on. Meanwhile, research is conducted on how to bring farming into the community to reduce the need for food transport and to ensure that the development is self-sustaining. To do this, the food habits of the Dutch are studied and from there, the type of food to cultivate is selected.

However, Bos qualified that creating a “smart city” is not easy or quick. “Smart city, or smart district, is very much a buzzword — everyone is thinking about it but it is still in its infancy. It is not the case that we can make cities smart very quickly.”

One of the ways to enable cities or districts to be “smart” is through the collection of data and Bos said this is being done on an experimental basis. To soothe concerns about privacy issues, the kind of data that is being collected is made clear to those on the ground.

Another component of cities of the future is mobility. One of the ideas she highlighted was the Hyperloop, a mode of transport where capsules are propelled at high speed through tubes. Another was the use of cable cars in feasible places. She revealed that there is a project under construction in Amsterdam that will be able to move 4,000 people per hour once completed.

Future cities may also see more high-density mixed-use developments, with buildings that are interconnected and linked to public transport.

Meanwhile, technology will play an important role in development. “Technology is integral to making buildings that are more future-proof,” she says, pointing out that building information management systems allow buildings to be kept up to date and to increase the flexibility of use, which is an important part of the sustainable approach.

 

High-density living

Fong Chun Wah, deputy CEO of Singapore’s Housing & Development Board (HDB), talked about the city state’s effective planning and transformation of public places and spaces in “High Density Living is Good Quality Living”.

According to him, about 82% of Singaporeans live in public housing. “As public housing is high density, we strive to make it liveable. In this respect, we have the advantage of being a master planner and developer whereby we control the policies of sale and resale.”

One of the advantages of high-density living is the low consumption of energy for transport. “Singapore is one of the most high-density cities in the world. But if you look at the energy used for transport, it is relatively low,” Fong pointed out.

He highlighted four town planning principles for high-density living. The first is to build communities to enhance good living and accessibility of transport.

The second is to adopt the concept of hierarchy. For example, for areas with a small population of 6,000, a commercial area will be placed in the centre of the neighbourhood. At the precinct level, with a larger population, additional amenities such as cinemas and shopping complexes will be added.

Third is enhancing connectivity, which is to encourage people to take public transport.

The last is to “adopt the checkerboard concept whereby high-rises are interspersed with low-rises so that people would not feel like they are completely surrounded by high-rises”, said Fong.

One of the high-density developments he highlighted was HDB’s build-to-order (BTO) projects in the Punggol Point district of northeastern Singapore. “The town is 1,000ha and contains 96,000 homes, with the population expected to be about 300,000.”

Waterway Terraces, the first public housing project developed by HDB along the Punggol Waterway, is close to the Punggol MRT/LRT station and Waterway Point, a suburban shopping mall. Completed in 2015, Waterway Terraces has green features — its façades are designed to reduce heat gain while solar energy powers the lights at the common areas, said Fong.

In order to create quality of life in a high-density environment, and in support of Singapore’s Smart Nation vision, the Smart HDB Town Framework was unveiled in 2014. According to Fong, the framework covers five areas — Smart Planning, Smart Environment, Smart Estate, Smart Living and Smart Community — all of which illustrate how smart technologies and initiatives would be introduced to create a more liveable, sustainable, efficient and safe living environment for residents.

 

Smart city public-private partnership

Amsterdam Smart City (ASC) strategy adviser and international smart city ambassador Frans-Anton Vermast discussed the topic of “Public & Private Partnership for Smart City”.

When it comes to public-private partnerships, he said ASC believes in getting everybody involved, through the sharing of knowledge and collaborations, to create innovative solutions for social, economic and ecological issues. It is important to have an inclusive society by increasing the opportunities for the disadvantaged segments of society, he added.

“The concept of ASC is ‘learning by doing’ that involves and engages citizens to join our collective. We are continuously learning about how transitions develop and to do the right interventions.”

Vermast said Roboat, one of ASC’s research programmes, helps to solve the urban challenges of Amsterdam city centre. It is the world’s first large-scale research that explores using autonomous vessels on water, including for the transport of people, goods or waste and for environmental sensing.

“Roboat helps to create temporary infrastructures that can be set up to build autonomous bridges or platforms — in other words, Roboat units can function as tugboats,” he added.

When it comes to public-private partnerships, trust is a big issue. “It is funny how people are willing to share data with Facebook and Google but refuse to share data with their local government. To establish trust, citizens and their local government must build a good relationship with each other so that data can be pooled and leveraged to realise its collective value,” remarked Vermast.

ASC has more than 12 programme partners, including but not limited to governments, knowledge institutions and companies. “This is where ASC engages the community via its partners, through online communities and offline events. Via these online and offline platforms, it creates an overview of what is happening in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, connects the community to share their expertise and enhance new projects,” he said.

 

Lightning sessions

There were several “lightning sessions” of 15 minutes each where local speakers shared what was happening in Kuala Lumpur. One session featured Think City Pte Ltd spatial analyst and programme manager Dr Ceelia Leong, who spoke on the plan to regenerate Downtown KL and build the Kuala Lumpur Creative and Cultural District (KLCCD).

One of the problems of Downtown KL — from the old KTM railway station to Masjid India, and encompassing Chinatown (Petaling Street) and Dataran Merdeka — is how decentralised it has become over the years. This has led to a loss of economic function and population for the last 30 years. Moreover, the problems suffered by KL, such as social ills, the influx of migrants and the outflow of the local population, and the negative perception of safety, are interrelated, said Leong.

The regeneration of Downtown KL and development of KLCCD — done in collaboration with Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and Department of National Heritage — are aimed at countering the problems, she added.

“We have looked at Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Brooklyn [in New York] and Johannesburg [in South Africa] as models. Their cultural creativity is used as economic catalysts. Inspired by these places, KLCCD is envisioned as an inclusive, authentic, viable, creative and cultural place to gather the historic fabric that enhances liveability and visitor appeal.”

Leong said KLCCD will generate RM6.7 billion over 17 years through business spending and economic benefits, and by adding visitors to Downtown KL.

“In order to achieve the KLCCD vision, it is important to have a holistic approach,” she added.

Besides the business benefits, KLCCD will also improve the liveability of the area, which includes increasing the social capital, community identity, inclusive spaces and housing quality.

Leong related the six strategies to achieve KLCCD’s aims — to develop a creative and cultural ecosystem, improve the state’s cultural heritage, improve public areas, improve accessibility and connectivity, repopulate the city and develop a governance framework for public and private partnerships.

Another speaker was DBKL executive director of planning department Nurazizi Mokhtar, who talked about some of the challenges when it comes to planning in KL.

He highlighted that house prices and affordability, and the population out-migration are the two main challenges.

“Housing has always been a major challenge for various cities around the world. KL currently has the potential to accommodate about 1.7 million people based on its existing housing stock and household size,” said Nurazizi.

The majority of the recently added housing stocks are higher-priced units, which a number of people cannot afford to purchase. This has led to the second challenge — population out-migration. According to his data, about 37,700 people migrated out of KL from 2015 to 2016.

“The vision for KL Structure Plan 2040 is a ‘City for All’, which aspires for KL to become a prosperous, healthy, safe and thriving city that provides high-quality living in an affordable, innovative, vibrant, inclusive, low-carbon and sustainable environment,” said Nurazizi.

He revealed that the City for All vision is supported by six goals — innovative and productive, inclusive and just, healthy and vibrant, climate smart and low carbon, efficient and eco-friendly mobility, as well as integrated and sustainable environment.

These goals are to ensure that KL achieves all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which have been adopted by the United Nations member states since September 2015.

Since its inception in 2009, WCSC has been jointly organised by the Real Estate & Housing Developers’ Association Malaysia Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur (Rehda KL), Malaysian Institute of Planners (MIP) and Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia (PAM). It is endorsed and supported by DBKL.