Barry Wilson is Vice President of the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design. His practice, Barry Wilson Project Initiatives, have been tackling urbanisation issues in Hong Kong and China for over 20 years. www.initiatives.com.hk
新加坡总是给人一种进步、现代化和高效率的城市印象。而新加坡目前的发展又似乎大大超越了这些，并因其在促进创新、前瞻性思维、可持续城市生活方式的领先地位而赢得了越来越多的美誉。这座曾被视为在“巨人”间立足，并勇于向别国学习的亚洲小国现如今已在彭博创新指数中排名世界第三，领先于德国和瑞士等欧洲国家。另外，在展示城市创新和转型产业最杰出行动方案和项目的世界智能城市博览会（Smart City Expo World Congress）上，新加坡被选为2018年度智慧城市。如今的新加坡已经成为一个展示智慧城市解决方案的“灯塔”，通过独具价值的实现方式，不仅增强城市的功能性，还可提升市民服务并通过这些服务提高市民的生活质量。
Singapore has always given people the impression of being a progressive, modern and efficient city. But it seems to be currently developing well beyond that and forging an increased reputation for being at the forefront of promoting innovative, forward thinking, approaches to sustainable urban living. Where once it was seen as a city learning from others, and ‘walking amongst giants’ the city now ranks third, ahead of European countries like Germany and Switzerland in the Bloomberg Innovation Index and was chosen as the Smart City of 2018 at the Smart City Expo World Congress, which recognizes the most outstanding initiatives and projects in the urban innovation and transformation industry. Singapore has now become a global beacon of how to implement smart urban solutions in a meaningful manner that not only enhances the city’s functioning but also improves the services provided to its citizens and through them their quality of life.
In this interview I meet with Elaine TAN Sze Hui, Director of Architecture and Urban Design Excellence at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which is tasked with land use planning and conservation for the city. Brimming with erudition, Elaine is clearly well practiced in efficiently and eloquently expressing both her passion for the exciting work being undertaken in the city as well as its global importance in rapidly testing alternatives approaches to urban change.
ENVISIONING A FUTURE
Barry interviews Elaine Tan
“It was an exciting time in 2005 to leave private practice and move into the public sector,” Elaine tells me the day before her presentation at the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design Conference on Actions for Active Ageing. It’s not often nowadays that you hear of leaving the private sector to work in government is due to the excitement of the opportunities. “I wanted to be in the team that was responsible for meeting the vision of the time, to create the city with an ‘X Factor’, that unknown something special” she reveals. As former Director of Strategic Research at the Urban Redevelopment Authority, Elaine was able to study new emergent ideas and address how these could support concept panning and envisioning as the shapers of development for the city. ‘Envisioning’ is the key role of the URA she suggests, whilst directing Architecture and Urban Design Excellence meant pushing the frontiers and boundaries of good design, particularly in working in collaboration with industry. This does indeed sound like exciting governance, one she explains where a special synthesis of the government working with both academic researchers and industry is adopted to help to forge the required visionary policy and formative development. Today’s environment is a more challenging dynamic than that of the past, where observing and adapting others solutions was the accepted mode, and this has required self-innovation in the city to generate solutions specifically suitable to Singapore’s unique urban context.
An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.
The Singapore ethos seems to form around the three distinct cores of ‘vision’, ‘partnership’ and ‘community’ in order to achieve a greater sense of joint ownership, product and empowerment through development. Increasing the emphasis on community solutions is a key factor in ensuring no single perspective dominates whilst addressing problems. The Singapore government recognises the complexity surrounding all issues and the need for greater interdependency of systems in land development, including infrastructure, housing, transport, community governance and ageing. “Multi-dimensional issues need multidimensional approaches” Elaine suggests, explaining further how Singapore is moving increasingly to mass co-operation, not just of public and private sectors but also ensuring academia, NGO’s, and non-profits are collaborators in creating holistic, comprehensive, integrated solutions and not just consulted for opinion.
她的目标是解决城市人口老龄化问题。我好奇的是，对于陈思慧来说为什么老龄化社会的需求至关重要？“我觉得不做一个‘被动式的公务员’很重要”她表示。这一点促使她对自己正在参与解决的问题产生了浓厚的兴趣，并从一开始就清楚地理解这些问题。作为市建局的研究总监，她可以清楚地看到潜在的老龄化趋势是未来的一个重要课题，但要真正了解一个包容社会的意义，她就必须经常性地探访医院、护理设施、养老院和家庭中心。她解释说:“亲临一线是增强意识的关键”，“对于工作的热情就是在这种沉浸感中成长起来的”。有一种观点认为新加坡本可以在更早的时候着手解决人口老龄化问题，特别是考虑到已有的日本经验。然而，真正唤醒意识的似乎是一个人们已经认识到了的事实——这座城市中的100万人将会在2030年成为老人。这一数字让公众和政策制定者都引起了共鸣。不过，她认为，晚些着手解决这一问题，也使新加坡具备了更好的条件，掌握如何解决这些问题的知识，并拥有更多的数据和技术资源来解决这些问题。新型社区正在崛起,近期完工的新加坡海军部综合体社区就是其中一个例子。高密度老年住房单元被植入现有的社区中，并提供包含市民服务和医疗支持的综合设施。这不仅仅是为了新的开发项目, 而且在于在构建多年龄层社区解决方案的同时给更大范围的社区提供额外的好处。新加坡在持续研究如何扩大住房类别，通过缩小居住单元面积或提供多世代混合居住的方式来实现年龄层间的良好流动。陈思慧解释说，混合多样的住房产品供应和分配应满足个体性需求、流动性和功能性，而不仅仅是满足所对应的收入群体。社区需要允许不同形式的“老有所居”，无论是独立生活还是辅助护理下的生活、又或是社区和居家养老。理解社会需求而不是“一刀切”，是提供一个及时反馈物理环境的关键。其中一个有趣的方式是，鼓励年轻夫妇选择离长者所在地步行可达的距离内居住。这就是我们所说的“汤模式”，你可以带着一碗热汤在其变冷之前来到你的家人身边。通过向这类夫妇提供财政补贴，新加坡政府在财政上已经认识到，这样的做法可以为老年人和年轻人的跨世代支持带来诸多益处。虽然这样的实践实现在一个城市的层面上，但我也想知道，这样的实践是否也在更大的环境背景下依然具有价值。比如，如何利用这样的模式进一步解决全球农村- -城市人口移徙和农村人口减少的问题呢?
With her intention to address issues of the ageing urban population, I’m curious as to why the needs of the ageing society is of particular importance to Elaine. “I feel it's very important not to be a ‘passive civil servant’ she confides. This drives her interest to become critically involved with the subject she is dealing with at the very rock face, to understand clearly the issues from the ground up. As Director of Research at URA she could identify the underlying trends showing ageing to be a critical issue going forward, but to really understand the meaning of an inclusive society she would make frequent and regular visits to hospitals, care facilities, nursing homes and family centres. “It’s essential to be on the ground to gain a heightened state of awareness” she explains. “The passion for your work grows through such immersion”. There is a school of thought that addressing demographic ageing issues could have been initiated earlier by Singapore, especially in the light of Japan’s experience, however the catalyst for such awareness seems to have been the realisation that 1 million of the city citizens would be ‘elderly’ by 2030, a figure that resonated with public and policy makers alike. Addressing the issue later however has given Singapore the advantages of being better armed with an understanding of how to tackle the issues as well as having more resources in terms of data and technology to address them she feels. New types of community are emerging, such as that recently completed at Kampung Admiralty, where high density elderly housing units have been plugged into an existing community to provide integrated facilities of amenity, service and medical support, not just for the new development but for the additional benefit of an existing wider catchment whilst structuring a multi- age district wide solution. Singapore continues to research how to widen the housing palette, to allow age mobility through both downsizing to smaller units or providing multi-generational homes. A matrix of housing product supply and allocation should respond to individual’s needs, mobility and functional capability rather than income groups alone Elaine explains. Communities need to allow for differing forms of ageing in place, both independently or with assisted living, community or family support. Understanding the social needs is key to providing a responsive physical environment where no ‘one size fits all’. One interesting facet is that of incentivising young couples to adopt housing within walking distance of their elders. What we might call the “soup model” of housing where you can travel to your family within the time it takes to walk with a hot bowl of soup before it gets cold. By supplying financial subsidies to such couples, Singapore’s government is financially recognising the significant benefits this can bring in cross-generational support of both elderly and very young together. Whilst this is employed at a large city level, I do also wonder about how this might also be relevant in a larger context. How perhaps could this be used as a further instrument related to dealing with the global problems of rural - urban migration and depopulation of rural economies?
As someone directly responsible for developing forward looking urban solutions, Elaine must have visions of the future, and I can’t resist touching upon these. Whilst she doesn’t want to be considered as a technocrat, she does consider the massive assistance in providing informed design that technology can bring. In terms of facilitating elderly support, she feels we might anticipate the benefits of more remote supervision, initially through online appointments and consultation, assisted by digital testing and monitoring. Singapore has already made efforts towards creating dementia friendly communities, whereby educating community members such as shopkeepers can make a difference, but there do appear to be particular opportunities in providing technology support. In a note of caution, she adds that the more technology and hard science that we employ then we also need to have more social science knowledge to balance this. History shows that the one cannot go without the other and our knowledge of the social impacts of technological change has always been impaired by time delay. Can this possibly change through adoption of AI predictive modelling? Every day we are becoming better informed through the provision of big data in being able to allow more targeted functional responses in urban development, whereas perhaps in the past these have been more aspirational on the part of planners and city shapers due to lack of hard information. Elaine shares her ‘mantra’ that provision of services should be based on three constructs: - firstly ‘Proximity; followed by ‘Accessibility’; and finally, ‘Convenience’. Continued data-based research on social systems and elderly behaviour in particular are able to help to provide solutions of the “Right Size and Right Site” for development programming.
We seem to be at a point of urban revolution she suggests, whereby regular and real time data will be able to allow us to plan and optimise facilities significantly better. It will allow us to “get under the skin and into the real issues” of providing appropriate city fabric. I press her for the urgent areas needing to be addressed in the next five years and immediately receive the suggested priority of developing resilience to meet the climate emergency, in terms of both physical and social resilience. Other key areas needing new approaches include rapid movement to sustainable and optimised transport nodes; improved leveraging of data with better digitisation, utilisation and analytics to predict problems; and the importance of addressing social issues arising from change, such as increases in the death rate and reliance on a sharing economy. One particular area she draws me into is the new field of ‘complexity science’ that has emerged in the last decade and is an approach to systems and problems that are dynamic, unpredictable and multi-dimensional. Whilst this has primarily been developed in the healthcare sector its appropriateness for considering the interconnected relationships and parts making up the city seems undeniable. Unlike traditional “cause and effect” or linear thinking, complexity science is characterized by non-linearity appropriate for the complex world we live in at the turn of the 21st century. It uses new theories that let us look at age old problems with a fresh perspective that leverages the use of powerful computation and the large data sets that are offering us new insight into the fundamental workings of our interconnected world of networks, globalization and sustainability. As Elaine points out, cities are solutions to the future and not the problems. Our future is to expect the unexpected, be as best prepared as possible for such eventualities and then to have systems in place to deal calmly with the future as it arises.