Interview: Wong Heang Fine
To what extent will the development of smart cities have an impact on the economic progress of the ASEAN region, in your opinion?
WONG HEANG FINE: 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. 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 and tonnes of copper cables, now you just run fibre-optic lines that channel huge amounts of data. Emerging Asian cities can develop and take advantage of the technology of the West. The development of smart cities in this region will greatly depend on enhancements of technology, particularly advancements in wireless technology. I think this is a phenomenon 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 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.
What benefits does Yangon have in comparison to more developed cities in the region?
WONG: One of the greatest things the British Empire left behind was their administration and education systems. We adopted similar traits in terms of British standards. The learning curve is lessened and makes it easier for Myanmar to learn from Singapore, for example. From an engineering viewpoint, Myanmar is a very natural market for us as we export our engineering services – much more so than, say, a former French territory. It’s the biggest advantage for Myanmar. In my view, it can progress at a much faster rate than places like Vietnam, Laos or even Thailand.
Hence, there is a lot of interest in Myanmar because there is so much potential for a lot of industries. We probably do not need to modify or change a lot to tap that potential. In technical engineering design, for example, we share the same codes and adhere to the same standards. For Myanmar to adopt some of the things we do, they won’t have to change much. However, if you look at Indonesia, which was influenced by the Dutch, doing business with Myanmar – from our perspective as engineers – will be much more difficult for Indonesian companies.
How can policymakers work to ensure the population base is spread across the city and not just the central business district?
WONG: 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 do not build them 20 km down the road and expect people to travel.
The modern city needs an integrated concept to accommodate the requirements of industry, workers and commercial enterprises, often in the very same building. That is why, when you look at Singapore, we have this very successful mixed-use arrangement and it is really quite 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.
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