Wong Heang Fine, Group CEO, Surbana Jurong: Interview

Wong Heang Fine, Group CEO, Surbana Jurong

Interview: Wong Heang Fine

How can policymakers work to ensure the population base is spread across the city and not just the central business district?

WONG HEANG FINE: Cities cannot be cost competitive if there is no balance. In other words, first there needs to be jobs, and then you have to build the housing to support these jobs. You don’t build them 20 km down the road and expect people to travel. The modern city needs an integrated concept to accommodate the needs of industry, workers and commercial enterprises, often in the same building. That’s why when you look at Singapore, we have this mixeduse arrangement and it’s very popular. In fact, the sales of residential apartments have been very well received, and commercial and retail shops are more willing to relocate there. Policymakers need to keep integration at the forefront of planning.

If you look across various industries, they are quite different. Knowledge industries like pharmaceutical, technology and so on will drive demand for certain types of workers and therefore bring forth amenities servicing these professional types. In the financial sector, employees work long hours and this includes lawyers and systems analysts. Cities of the future are gravitating towards this model.

For example, we built a financial centre where many of the finance companies move to, and then high-end bars get built for these workers because these are very popular for their lifestyle. You wouldn’t have this arrangement with manufacturing workers. I think governments need to realise that you need to create jobs, and then residential and commercial activity will follow. Therefore, I think policymakers need to have a master plan in this regard, because collective mixed-use buildings are more cost competitive. If you don’t have this mixeduse ecosystem, then it is hard to attract investments and to attract finance companies to move in. In Asian cities in places like Sri Lanka we have been injecting new ideas about how new cities will be developing. One will notice that the model of what a city should be in Asia is different than in the West.

To what extent will the development of smart cities have an impact on the economic progress of the region?

WONG: When you talk about the development of smart cities, you need to ask how you define smart. This depends on the development of the cities themselves. Everyone has a different definition. As cities develop and become more populated due to urbanisation, there will be a lot of economic development in the streets. If you follow the progress you will find that cities develop because of jobs. This is what creates demand for housing and commerce and so forth. The development of smart cities will have a definite economic impact throughout the region. Fortunately, many cities have had the benefit of leap-frogging. In the old days you needed to lay tonnes of copper cables, now you just lay fibre-optic cables that channel huge amounts of data.

Emerging Asian cities can develop and take advantage of the technology that already exists the West. The development of smart cities in this part of the world will greatly depend on enhancements and advances of technology, particularly advancements in wireless technology. I think this is a phenomena you will see across Asia. In fact, Asian cities have developed at a much faster rate than those in the West because of the advancement of technology.

To answer the question, there will be a lot of economic progress that will be achieved as a result of smart cities. The cost of implementation for a lot of these systems is actually quite low in comparison to their expected benefits. That is why, in our view, Asia over the next decade will most likely be one of the most exciting regions in the world. It is certainly a very interesting time for a lot of Asian economies.

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Wong Heang Fine

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The Report: Sri Lanka 2017

Construction & Real Estate chapter from The Report: Sri Lanka 2017

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