Expert Voices: Benjamin Towell, Executive Manager, Green Mark, Building & Construction Authority, Singapore

In this post, we hear from Benjamin Towell about the recent C40 & World Green Building Council Vision Exercise, which took place in Singapore.

C40’s Sustainable Urban Development Network, in partnership with the World Green Building Council (WGBC), recently embarked on a “Vision Exercise” bringing together city representatives to share information about on-going large-scale urban development projects and to discuss related planning concepts. The two-day gathering included representatives from the C40 cities of Melbourne, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Singapore, along with representatives from the World Green Building Council, the Australia and the Singapore Green Building councils. It was hosted by the Singapore Building and Construction Authority and the Singapore Green Building Council, with support from Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and Housing and Development Board. The vision exercise was conducted alongside Singapore’s Green Building Week which included the International Green Building Conference, Build Eco Xpo Asia and the inaugural World Engineers Summit.

World Gbc Vision Workshop1

The workshop focused on each participating city sharing their experiences in managing and implementing low carbon district-scale development, emphasising the complex issues involving multiple stakeholders. The format of these sessions was modelled on a design review or charette, which promoted collaboration and allowed participants to tap into the experience and expertise of their peers. In addition, participants heard from local representatives who developed Singapore’s comprehensive set of planning approaches to managing rapid population growth and urbanisation, whilst retaining green space through its “city in a garden” vision.

During the interactive charette process, it became apparent that although the cities’ projects were different in many ways, there were also common themes and areas of interest. One such theme centred on community engagement, from practical ways to empower citizens to models for surveys and data collection -- topics that are widely discussed but rarely practiced in a holistic manner. Impressive examples were found in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil, where city budgets are often open to citizens for comment. 

Yet, it was clear from discussions that city representatives still wrestled with questions of how to navigate the time required to conduct engagement and empowerment campaigns against accelerated project development timelines. In the end, it was concluded that city officials benefit from constructive and critical engagement with local communities, and must find ways to gather feedback that extends beyond “not-in-my-backyard” thinking.

A second common theme pertained to the concept of “sustainability” as a primary driver of an urban development project. Because sustainability can be seen as an “add on,” strategies or policies aimed at sustainability often have little ownership across departments or within local populations. This issue can be exacerbated by fragmentation between various agencies pursuing different or conflicting goals. Participants concluded that cities must work pursuant to an integrative design process that considers sustainability holistically within local and federal governance structures at each decision point.

Another area of common interest was the issue of gentrification that arises with urban renewal or development programs. Representatives were reminded that large-scale redevelopment projects where retention of a community is a key element takes time – time for trust and relationships to be built alongside infrastructure and new community features, such as upgraded public spaces and education facilities. 

Policymakers can help this process by ensuring that support networks are in place and that thought has been given to analysing local skills, and aligning job creation, desired services, and transit to ensure that citizens want to live in the new developments and retain a sense of investment and belonging in their communities.

For myself and for Singapore, the C40 Vision Exercise was a valuable opportunity to discuss with representatives from other cities with very different projects, climates, and social and economic conditions. The two days we spent together allowed us to share, learn, and build a peer network to generate new ideas and provide support, whilst remaining cognisant of the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

For further reading on C40’s Sustainable Urban Development Initiative, click here.