Panellists from left: Howard Shaw, Mary Ann Tsao, Arent Jan (AJ) Hesselink (moderator), Toh Wee Kiang, Tai Lee Siang and Jack Mama.
Singapore - Singapore has achieved many accolades as a liveable city, and is recognized for its excellent infrastructure and use of technology, but there is a critical need to emphasize the community aspect, panellists pointed out at the Philips Seminar on “Future Living Spaces in Singapore”. Held on 30 July, the public seminar, organized by Philips as part of its 60th anniversary celebrations in Singapore, attracted close to 200 participants, including tertiary students from arts and design colleges, institutes, polytechnics, universities as well as members of green and sustainability societies.
Panel members, comprising representatives from Economic Development Board (EDB), Philips Design, Singapore Environment Council (SEC), Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) and Tsao Foundation, discussed the macro trends of aging, climate change, sustainability and urbanization, and their impact on future living spaces in Singapore.
Re-establishing kampong spirit, increasing social bonding and inclusivity
A key conclusion drawn was the lack of community interaction and social bonding in today’s Singapore society. “With today’s urban flats, we boxed people up in their home, resulting in a loss of interactivity and sense of community. We think of living spaces as only our living room. But for future living spaces, we need to think beyond our homes. Initiatives, such as Vertical Kampong by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Center, look at reviving the kampong spirit in the community we live in by promoting the spirit of trust, helping and sharing with one another,” said Howard Shaw, former Executive Director of SEC and Senior Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, Halycon Group.
“It is time to re-establish that sense of kampong spirit and for Singaporeans to look beyond our four walls. We have done a lot in hardware in Singapore, but we need to do a lot more in ‘heartware’,” he continued.
Tai Lee Siang, President of Singapore Institute of Architects (2007-2009) and Group Managing Director of Ong & Ong Pte Ltd, elaborated further, “We used to spend a lot of time at the dining table with parents and grandparents, but now we can’t even fit in a proper table at home as space is getting smaller. We need to make spaces more innovative. Singapore is known for its excellence in embracing hardware and technology, but the key challenge is to develop our city with a soul. We still have a lot of work to do to build up the social and cultural aspects of our city, while leveraging technology to help create solutions or build facilities that can increase social bonding and inclusivity.”
Technology not the only answer
The panellists also highlighted that while technology plays an important role, it is also about a cultural and mindset shift. “Technology is not the answer to everything. It is but a means to a goal, which is to improve quality of life, and hence, must be human-centered. At Philips Design, when we conduct design probes, we always begin by looking at people and thinking about their needs. We also take a multi-disciplinary approach to consider different viewpoints and work creatively with people from various fields to overcome constraints,” said Jack Mama, Creative Director of Probes program, Philips Design.
“In envisioning future living spaces, I believe there are many opportunities and possibilities. Our attitudes towards waste and energy consumption have to change drastically. How can we solve the challenge to urbanization? How can we make 40 square meters perform like 80 square meters? Thinking and rethinking the space and how we live in that space is critical,” Mama further elaborated. “Within the design probe projects we have set out to address some of these issues within different future contexts and suggest new possibilities. These projects serve as a catalyst to stimulate debate and feedback around selected themes and in turn generate what we call contextual insights.”
Challenge of climate change
Climate change is also a challenge for any city that strives to be sustainable and liveable. The threat of climate change will continue to have significant impact on the physical, biological and human systems around the world. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the 1990s was the warmest decade, and the 1900s was the warmest century during the last 1,000 years.
“Over the last forty years, the government has been dealing with challenges relating to limitations on land, water and other resources. We have developed innovative urban solutions which we can offer to the world. Today, we need to design our buildings to be much more energy efficient, as dealing with climate change and environmental sustainability will be the key challenge this century. In Singapore as well as globally, we need to accept that at some point, there are physical limits to growth. The Earth has a finite carrying capacity. We need to look at how we can create prosperity without necessarily having high growth rates. Prosperity without growth doesn’t imply stagnation or lack of progress. It just means we channel more efforts towards achieving outcomes that may be difficult to measure, but which are increasingly important, e.g. creating more liveable spaces, improving the quality of human relationships and improving income equality,” said Toh Wee Khiang, Executive Director of Human Capital and Building & Infrastructure Solutions Divisions, Singapore EDB.
A city for all ages
At the same time, Singapore is also grappling with the challenges of a rapidly aging population. By 2030, one in five residents will be 65 years or older. By 2050, Singapore’s median age will be 54, similar to Japan and Italy, making it one of the demographically oldest countries in the world.
Dr. Mary Ann Tsao, President and Founding Director of the Tsao Foundation, added her perspective in relation to the elderly population. “Singapore is a remarkable city, but I am not sure if we are a city of all ages, especially for the elderly. People are living longer now, and thus a liveable city has to be a city for all ages, to be inclusive, to allow and invite participation from all citizens in all aspects of life. Technology can play a role in enabling connectivity between people, and with nature. We need to re-look at how we plan public spaces, make them accessible, and at the same time, improve the flow of information, amongst people in the community, young and old, be it within or outside of homes.”
Building a sustainable, liveable city and forging a new identity
The panellists also pointed out unique challenges faced by Singapore in building a sustainable, liveable city. An interesting point raised by Howard Shaw was that Singapore would need to look at food security, beyond water and energy security. “Currently, only 1% of land in Singapore is used for food production. There is an opportunity to look into vertical farming and food producing units, such as using our HDB flats, near our living spaces within our city,” added Shaw.
Tai also highlighted how Singapore is unique when compared to other bigger countries. “The issue of identity for Singapore needs to be approached differently from bigger countries where the ratio distribution of demographics is very different. Singapore has a population that is made up of both citizens and foreigners - how do we forge a new identity that is not purely based on citizenship, but instead create a community to make everyone feel that they belong here? We need to re-look at Singapore as a new kind of city-state, as an economic and technology hub with global citizens housed within a small island of less than 700 square kilometres sharing a common goal.”
Making cities liveable or making liveable cities cannot be achieved without the help and the support of the communities and the inhabitants of the cities.
“Through this seminar, we hope to raise awareness and inspire the public, in particular the students, to think about future living spaces in Singapore – rethinking how we plan physical space, as well as social spaces, whether it’s through design, technology or a multi-disciplinary approach to build community and make Singapore a more livable city for people of all ages, said Wong Lup Wai, Country Manager of Philips Singapore. “Innovation centred around human needs is the key to improve people’s health and well-being and to help secure the long-term future of our city. And we hope to see some inspiring and creative ideas from our students through Philips Singapore’s ‘Future Living Spaces’ contest.”
The contest is open to all tertiary students from 29 July to 19 September, and the video contest entries will be made available for public voting online till 23 September. The top 20 entries will be identified by the highest number of votes. The judges will then pick the best idea as well as the most inspiring and most innovative ideas, from this list. The top 3 winners and the top entries, will win $10,000 worth of cash and products in prizes.
For more information about the contest, please visit https://www.philips.com.sg/futurelivingspaces