Federation for
Housing and

Hyper-Strategic Singapore

Would the long-term top-down approach from Singapore work in your city?

The urban population in the world is going to explode - that’s a fact and it’s unstoppable. What we don’t know is how cities will look like in the future. Will we have cities that are living nightmares – crime-ridden, polluted, or will we have dream-like cities, sustainable, green, friendly cities? Around the globe, cities, think-tanks, academics and networks are struggling to find answers. At the World Cities Summit in Singapore in July 2012, where the future of cities was on the agenda, the Minister of Environment of Singapore presented this suggestion on how to go ahead based on the success of Singapore:

‘Build the most beautiful city you can. Plant as many trees as you can. Invest in the latest technology. Conserve energy, water and resources. And find a way to have honest, competent and visionary leadership.’ (Minister of Environment, Dr. Vivian Banakrishnan).

Sounds easy – always strive for the best technology and the best leaders - and this is exactly the thinking that has brought Singapore where it is today as one of the most prosperous cities in the world (Global Cities Index 2012).

Photo by: Signe Cecilie Jochumsen


Being a city-state of 5 mio. inhabitants with virtually no natural resources, Singapore has always been forced to plan ahead carefully for many years ahead. Let’s take a couple of examples of what Singapore did: Firstly, about 50 years ago, Singapore was poor and needed investments, but the policy was not to bring in the polluting industries - only very clean industries were allowed to get into the small island. Secondly, major investments in infrastructure were only done if it would help create economic growth. And a third example of long-term comprehensive planning comes from housing. When Singapore became independent, good and affordable housing was one of the top-priorities for the government.

‘No government has enough money, but you need to decide what is the most important for you, and you will make the right choices if you look very long-term. If you look very short-term and worry about the next election, you may not make the right choice. In Singapore, we have not spent money on things that do not help the country or the economy, and we have been quite disciplined.’ (Dr. Koon Hean Cheong, CEO, Housing Development Board, Singapore).

In the case of Singapore, the long-term planning practice have been dominated by the state and as such from a top-down, but when it comes to building a more sustainable city for the future, there should also be room for bottom-up approaches . According to Dr. Cheong, a long-term masterplan is also needed here: 

‘The most promising developments about cities in recent years is that cities realize that they have to grown in a sustainable way. Cities are beginning to realize this. All mayors were talking about this. But you cannot only do a bottom-up approach, but you also need to have a long-term masterplan (Dr. Koon Hean Cheong, CEO, Housing Development Board, Singapore).

Clearly, Singapore is one of the frontrunners in the world when it comes to creating a highly efficient, sustainable city with advanced technological solutions, especially in term of water-management, transportation and low-carbon buildings. It is also a city-state with a very high level of income and standard of living. But would the long-term top-down approach from Singapore work in your city?