Imagine cities with sparkling canals, lush parks, spruce residential villages and a well-functioned integrated public transport system with minimal traffic congestion. Sounds like heaven on earth? It doesn’t have to be a pipedream – ask the small city-state Singapore, which today boasts an infrastructure and enviable living space that are in many instances better than most first-world economies.
All this, the Gauteng Department of Infrastructure Development believes, is attainable for South Africa’s economic hub. With deliberate and integrated planning that spans across different disciplines Gauteng can also become a city-region where its inhabitants enjoy a high standard of living with less traffic congestion, less pollution, quality housing, education and health facilities and more natural parks and recreational activities.
The Singapore model
The development of infrastructure in Singapore did not happen without a number of challenges. Its small size and scarce natural resources imposed severe challenges, but the authorities did a crucial thing right – they followed a systems approach with an understanding of how things influence one another.
The result is the Singapore we know today: an attractive and green city-state with large-scale, integrated and urban infrastructure systems. The Singaporean model for socio-economic development is exemplary for both developmental economists focused on quick turnarounds as well as developed nations.
What Singapore managed to achieve is no small triumph if you consider where they came from. At independence in 1965, Singapore had only 580 square kilometres of land. Jobs needed to be created for its many unemployed citizens born during the baby boom years after the Second World War who entered the job market in droves.
To succeed and survive as an independent city-state, Singapore had to meet its objectives of security, rapid socio-economic development and nation-building. The approach of the government of the day’s approach was based on pragmatism – a governing style, called “management by objectives”.
The most important task at hand was to build an urban system that would meet people’s most basic needs while using as little space as possible.
Central to the development of these solutions was a master plan that coordinated multidimensional integration. There were two important aspects to consider – integrating the demand for space with the functional needs for residential, industrial and commercial development.
Here’s how they pulled it off:
Singapore is land-scarce and its government had to house the majority of people in high-rise buildings. Homes were built at a phenomenal rate in the past 40 years and nearly 80% of housing is public housing.
The success of this type of accommodation laid the foundation for many other developments. Public housing estates flowed from that to ensure there was an even distribution of the population. To accommodate citizens and minimising their need to commute, public transport was made available in the form of mass rapid transit systems – whether through light rail or buses. Emanating from the housing estates were schools, commercial centres, parks and other recreational facilities to ensure each estate was self-sufficient.
The country also developed new integrated residential and commercial developments in new areas to reduce pressure on the Central Business District.
To free up more space above ground and shallower subterranean space, Singapore developed a deep tunnel sewerage system situated a depth of about 50m underground.
Just as it was necessary to free up land space by building high-rise apartments there was a need to develop underground infrastructure.
Aesthetic living, working and social spaces
By integrating the drains, canals and reservoirs with the surrounding environment in a holistic way, Singapore succeeded in creating clean streams, rivers, and lakes with appealing community spaces for all to enjoy.
Singapore has a vision to be a City in a Garden and its National Parks Board (NParks) is tasked with providing the greenery in and around living and working spaces. NParks manages 300 parks and four nature reserves.
Adding to the lushness is the extensive streetscape, or roadside greenery, that forms the backbone of the city in a garden-concept. An island-wide park connector network is also on the cards to link all the major parks, nature areas and residential estates. NParks has developed an urban biodiversity conservation model, which aims to safeguard eco-systems in land-scarce Singapore.
With 4,72km road per square kilometres of land area, Singapore has the second-densest road network in the world, after Belgium. Developing the necessary infrastructure to transport people and goods, Singapore had the following solutions: building rapid transit rail systems and establishing integrated residential and commercial centres in new towns to reduce pressure on the Central Business District.
Singapore went one step further: the authorities encouraged Singaporeans to use public transport by imposing taxes to discourage private ownership of cars, while at the same time reducing taxes for vehicles that move goods that contribute to the economy.
Integrating these policies allowed Singapore to establish an infrastructure system that makes speedy movement of people and goods on land. But again – it involved a master plan that integrated various disciplines, such as town planning, road planning, public transport policies and taxation policies.
It also implemented an electronic road pricing (ERP) system that could allow the use of busier roads to be monitored. A road that appears to have heavy traffic is subject to price increases that reflect the intensity of traffic on the specific road.
Singapore has three military airfields, a general aviation airfield and the Changi International Airport that is ranked the sixth busiest airport in the world, handling millions of passengers daily.
The authorities designed new runways to accommodate the new mega aeroplanes and the airport is directly linked to the mass rapid transit system.
Planning, planning – and more planning
So how did Singapore manage to evolve from a little trading post in the early 1800s to a city-state that is the envy of many large countries? The answer lies in planning within a master planning framework.
Singapore is fortunate in that its political and social system encourages integration through policy-making. Although it is a small country it achieved what many larger countries have yet to accomplish.
Singapore’s spectacular stats:
- It has the third highest per capita income in the world.
- It is consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in the world.
- It has the highest trade-to-GDP ratio in the world at 407,9%, signifying the importance of trade to its economy.
- It’s only Asian country to have AAA-credit ratings from all three major credit rating agencies –Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch.
- It’s the world’s fourth leading financial centre.
- The World Bank has named Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business.
- It has the world’s highest percentage of millionaires, with one out of every six households having at least one million US dollars in disposable wealth.
The Gauteng model
The Gauteng province can no doubt identify with some of the challenges Singapore faced post-independence. It’s the smallest of the nine provinces in South Africa yet the most densely populated. Multitudes of people from all over continue to flock into towns and cities in search of a better life.
Increasingly, the province must provide shelter, water and sanitation, electricity, job opportunities and many other basic socio-economic necessities required by new residents.
As in Singapore, Gauteng’s current and future residents need to be adaptable and “moderate their dreams”, economist Professor Melvin Ayogu, who heads up the province’s infrastructure research unit, says. “You may have to give up on your dream to live in a house with a garden and instead live in high-rise complexes, such as the Singaporeans.”
Like Singapore just after independence, Gauteng also needs to quickly build houses while facing the challenge of limited access to resources, such as water and electricity.
But there are also vast differences: Singapore has a 96% literacy rate while South Africa’s is about 86%. We need to therefore urgently invest a lot more in education and the development of human capital if we would like to have sound systems and skills in place for the challenges ahead.
What the Singapore example taught us is the absolute necessity of having an all-encompassing blueprint in place. South Africa and more specifically Gauteng’s ability to compete internationally is tied to the quality of our infrastructure and human capital.
The medium- to long-term Gauteng Infrastructure Master Plan will better inform infrastructure investment choices in the province and aims to build a prosperous, equitable and socially inclusive province.
While the masterminds are still busy drafting the master plan, the Gauteng government will continue to prioritise the implementation of some flagship projects.
The Sedibeng Sewer Network: The proposed design capacity of the sewerage system coupled with new waste water treatment works will have a lifespan of 2025.
Stimulating the Green Economy: Gauteng’s Economic Development Department (Gauteng Growth and Development Agency- GGDA as of today, merged with Blue IQ) has already allocated R130m over three years for green projects, intended to turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities, such as sourcing energy from waste, waste sorting in informal settlements and manufacturing solar heaters (see pg 10 for more on green technology).
The procurement of mixed housing developments: An innovative approach to housing delivery that provides a mixture of housing products to suit low, middle and high income earners. These developments are undertaken in partnership with the private sector.
Provincial Government’s Township Upgrade Programme: In terms of the provincial government’s Poorest Township Programme, multiple projects have been undertaken to upgrade Tembisa along with with Sebokeng, Bekkersdal and others.
Development of freight and logistics: Gauteng is pulling out all the stops to ensure the province becomes South Africa’s freight and logistics hub through the establishment of an aerotropolis that will link the OR Tambo International Airport – Africa’s busiest airport – with Lanseria.
Three additional freight and logistics hubs are also being developed and a high-speed rail line is also being built linking Johannesburg with Ethekwini, the heart of KwaZulu-Natal.
A word of advice
Gauteng has an abundance of competitive advantages: not only is it – despite its size – the centre of economic activity in South Africa, it’s also an important launching pad for local and international businesses to enter the African market.
However, the province can’t do it alone, Ayogu says. “Because Gauteng is landlocked it should take advantage of the opportunities its neighbouring provinces can offer. We should lend them some of our strengths and network not only with them, but also our neighbouring countries to truly become and African city.”
Extra sources: http://www.nparks.gov.sg, Journal of Urban Tecnology/April 2001, Wikipedia, gautengcompanies.co.za, gautengonline.gov.za
**This editorial forms part of a feature commissioned through Finweek to accompany the GIIMP conference in Gauteng. For more information on this project or to download the presentations please click here.