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Singapore's ability to plan ahead puts it in good stead

By Hasnita A Majid, Channel NewsAsia
23 March 2007

SINGAPORE: The plans to optimise the use of land and space for long-term residential, commercial and industrial development right from the beginning have put Singapore in good stead.

According to an international expert, it has enabled the country to fully utilise its land as the population grows.

Building world-class housing needs extensive planning. And Singapore has managed to do that right from the start when it was looking for ways to house its population in the early years of independence.

Master plans were developed, encompassing not just housing, but also infrastructure and amenities needed by residents such as roads, facilities and schools.

This kind of planning – using an inter-disciplinary approach known as 'systems engineering' – has enabled Singapore to replicate such towns rapidly.

Teo Chee Hean, Defence Minister, said: "This approach also looked beyond the physical aspect of housing. We devoted as much attention to how public housing could foster social cohesion in multi-racial Singapore.

"This encouraged interaction between residents from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds because they shared the same amenities such as markets, community centres and schools."

A similar approach was used in areas such as water management and defence capabilities.

Mr Teo said the systems approach has enabled the country to manage its drainage, water catchment, purification and sewage treatment as part of a single system.

From there, Singapore could develop the Four National Taps Strategy, comprising water from the local catchment areas, imported water, recycled water and desalinated water.

In the defence area, a life-cycle management approach was implemented in the early 80s.

This looked at new capabilities from conception to retirement, taking into account not just the cost of the platform but also the cost of infrastructure, logistics, training, operations and manpower, to ensure life-cycle cost effectiveness.

A similar approach was also taken when it came to buying defence equipment.

Dr Yeoh Lean Weng, Systems Architect, Defence Science & Technology Agency (DSTA), said: "What you need to do is you need to make sure that all these systems operate coherently. It can be integrated in a coherent manner so that it acts as a multiplying effect to increase the war-fighting capability many times. Each individual component will perform if it is operated in an independent mode.

Singapore also applied this concept in the planning of its transport network. This has provided the flexibility in managing the demand and supply for land utilisation.

For example, the Area Licensing Scheme implemented in 1975 was replaced by the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) which was also extended to expressways as well as arterial roads during peak hours.

A systems engineering expert feels Singapore's success in implementing this approach can be used as a model for other countries, especially developing countries.

Professor Patrick Hale, President Elect, International Council on Systems Engineering, said: "By applying these kinds of changes at the beginning, you can end up with the results you were looking for the first time rather than having to re-engineer many times over in order to get to the goal that you set for yourselves.

"I think probably the best example in this region is Singapore. They have planned much of what they've done with their social, economic and industrial structure and defence since they became a nation and it has shown in the way that they've created a stable and enduring and supportable way to move forward as a society."

Singapore's success stories in large-scale systems engineering projects include Changi Airport and the land reclamation and development of the new Marina Bay downtown area.

The DSTA said many of these are being used as case studies by other countries.

More than 100 representatives from 13 countries including Australia, UK, the US, Indonesia and Japan are in Singapore to attend the two-day conference on Systems Engineering.

This is the first time that Singapore is selected to host the conference. In the past, regional conferences were held in Australia.

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