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Driverless Cars and Other Disruptions: Key Points from the ULI APAC Summit

The Urban Land Institute’s recent Asia Pacific Summit, held in Singapore, looked to the future of cities and how we might start building in adaptability for tomorrow’s tech disruptions.

Driverless Cars and Other Disruptions: Key Points from the ULI APAC Summit

William Lee, Microsoft’s Director of Real Estate Strategies, Planning and Development with Tony Lombardo (Lendlease), Marilyn Taylor (University of Pennsylvania) and Forth Bagley (KPF)


June 14th, 2017

The sixth annual Urban Land Institute (ULI) Asia Pacific Summit was held at the Fullerton Hotel from 6-8 June. Titled ‘The Future is Now. Are You Ready?’, this year’s summit explored how to create sustainable and adaptable cities for the future. This was the first time the summit had been held in Singapore.

Competitiveness and innovation for cities was an undercurrent throughout many of the presentations and panel discussions, and in his ministerial keynote, Singapore’s Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong zeroed in on this theme.  

There’s a major shortfall of investment in infrastructure projects in Asia, he suggested. $1.7 trillion is needed until 2030, he said, but the current annual investment is just $900 billion. He went on to describe Singapore’s huge investment in doubling the capacity of its airport and sea ports, enhancing connectivity with Malaysia via rail, enhancing the public transport system, and developing new growth centres.

He also singled out Singapore’s adoption of more productive construction methods, a new ‘master developer’ model for developments (such as a plot in Kallang), smart nation initiatives, and trials for self-driving vehicles as components of a vision for Singapore of being an infrastructure hub for South East Asia – and perhaps even for the Asian region. Infrastructure needs to be seen as an investable asset class, he said.

Keynote speaker Vivek Wadhwa – a futurist, author, emerging technologies expert, and Distinguished Fellow and Professor at Carnegie Mellon University – set imaginations soaring with his presentation titled ‘Amazing or Scary: Technology’s Impact on Our Lives, Jobs and Business’. “Technology is moving faster than human beings can understand. We have no idea what’s going on,” he said as he began his talk on a note of ‘definitely scary’.

The ‘amazing’ emerged, though. Artificial intelligence, bionic enhancements, synthetic biology, virtual reality, robotics, self-driving cars, and clean and free energy will all – and already are – disrupting life as we know it. “If you understand the disruption, you own the future,” he said. 

Self-driving cars were a repeated topic during the presentations. Wadhwa was the first to suggest that they will require us to rethink how we plan buildings. Constantly circulating shared self-driving vehicles will do away with the need for parking spots, he said.

In a panel discussion titled ‘Resilience, Flexibility and Livability of Urban Space’, Marilyn Taylor – Professor of Architecture and Urban Design and Former Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design (and a ULI Trustee) – suggested that shared vehicles will change the ‘last mile’ problem. Tony Lombardo – the CEO, Asia at Lendlease – recognised that with the move toward shared self-driving vehicles, underground car parks will need future proofing. We should already plan for repurposing them, he said – perhaps as storage areas. Noted William Lee, Microsoft’s Director of Real Estate Strategies, Planning and Development: “By 2025, we project that half of all vehicles on the road will be driverless.”

Among many other topics of discussion were smart cities, with Dr Cheong Koon Hean, CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB), outlining Singapore’s smart city initiatives and HDB test beds. The HDB is currently working to develop standards for industry with regard to smart towns, she said – a means of future proofing smart developments.

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