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Rapid urbanisation in Southeast Asia: Insights and opportunities

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All across Southeast Asia, change is taking place by the day in its villages, towns and cities. As home to some of the fastest-growing populations in the world, the region overflows with opportunity, with infrastructure needs booming in response to the human traffic that swells up urban centres faster than they can contain them.

According to the United Nations, Southeast Asia’s total population of around 630 million is expected to reach more than 740 million by 2035. With this surge comes rapid urbanisation, uneven growth, social issues – and a pressing demand for solutions. Of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Singapore has the most developed economy and is considered to be 100% urbanised. Malaysia and Brunei are classified as highly urbanised, while the majority – including Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam – are regarded as semi-urbanised. Cambodia is deemed to be still mostly rural.

An urbanisation boom is generally considered as a good indicator of economic growth, leading to a wealth of business opportunities, construction, jobs, and higher living standards for the population.

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Pacific Region facing similar challenges with urbanisation

In the neighbouring Pacific Region, a similar trend is happening in population and urban population growth patterns, with many Pacific Island countries experiencing urbanisation rates three times higher than the world average.

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In Melanesian countries, which include Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, urban growth is particularly high. Solomon Islands (pop. 632,000) has the most striking statistics, with its urban population increasing at about 4.4%, almost twice the rate of national population growth. In Papua New Guinea, which has the biggest population among the Pacific countries at 8.5 million, its urban population is seen to double to 2 million by 2030.

Big city woes – causes and solutions

Why the lure of the big cities? The key drivers to urban migration include changing environmental and climatic conditions, declining agricultural commodity prices and livelihood opportunities, and an increasing lack of rural land available to confer upon villagers the kind of social standing based on the currency they were used to.

Pull factors include the attraction of non-manual labour, cash employment, access to public services, amenities and modern conveniences, and the perceived excitement that comes with city life.

These drivers can spark a development boom in a city, leading to improved infrastructure and essentials such as clean water and sanitation, greater mobility, and better housing for the people. But when rural-to-urban migration and urban centres are not properly managed, what results are congestion, pollution, economic distress and potentially, political and social unrest.

When urbanisation is managed well:

  • Improved quality of life in villages and townships, which slows down urban migration
  • Improved public services in urban centres, such as transport networks, utilities, and water and waste management
  • Better housing, healthcare and education.


Key solutions:

  • Develop master plans and guidelines to re-design cities
  • Develop infrastructure and smart technology master plans
  • Create new urban centres
  • Build infrastructure such as high speed rail, bridges, highways and roads
  • Develop smart, digital, sustainable solutions
  • Tap on infrastructure investment platforms.

Development of infrastructure in the region has not kept pace with its growth. According to recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates, Southeast Asia (excluding Laos, Brunei and Singapore) spent only US$55 billion a year on infrastructure development in 2015 – way below ADB’s 2016-2020 projected yearly spending of US$147 billion (baseline) and US$157 billion (climate-adjusted), or an annual gap of US$92 billion and US$102 billion, respectively. For the entire region (including Laos, Brunei and Singapore), ADB estimates for the period 2016-2030 an annual infrastructure spend of US$184 billion (baseline) and US$210 billion (climate-adjusted), or a total of US$2.8 trillion and US$3.1 trillion, just to keep pace with its development trajectory.

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Inclusive, sustainable development

Proper urban planning and infrastructure development can make urban centres sustainable and more inclusive.

In such centres, all stakeholders – including the most marginalised – are given the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from urban planning and infrastructure development. This fosters transparency, accountability, healthier living conditions and better outcomes through collaboration between residents, the government and private sector.

In Vietnam’s Da Nang, for example, Surbana Jurong is fulfilling the city’s Conceptual Master Plan 2030 and reviewing it with a vision towards 2045. It works together with public and private sector parties to examine the city’s current socio-economic situation and master plan to ensure support for its aspirations and that of the region. The parties also jointly develop investment promotion plans to stimulate economic development and urbanisation.

On the team’s guiding approach, Philip Tan, Surbana Jurong’s Managing Director and Global Lead, Master Planning, said, “Aligned with Da Nang City’s 2030-2045 vision, our priority is to develop a master plan that supports smart and sustainable townships. By focusing on innovation, technology, livability and sustainability, we are confident of creating a master plan that will bring manifold benefits for the residents and stakeholders of the city.”

This is characteristic of Surbana Jurong’s projects – the commitment to achieving social, economic and environmental sustainability. Planning a sustainable city or asset goes beyond being resource-efficient and green; it is also about making decisions that lead to an improved quality of life for the user, and a livable environment where there are ample social facilities, good transport connectivity and accessibility for the community.

Furthermore, while urban renewal and improved infrastructure can help to turn a dog-eared city into a livable and sustainable city, severe congestion in existing urban centres may also call for more drastic measures – the creation of a new and separate urban centre that is planned from scratch.

A good example of this is the development of New Clark City in the Philippines, dubbed the country’s first smart city. The city region of Bangkok in Thailand, meanwhile, is set to expand another 200km from its current centre in 2020. The merging of urban centres is also not a remote possibility, the way the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe mega-region emerged in Japan.

Surbana Jurong understands Southeast Asia

The Surbana Jurong Group operates in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, with country offices in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea. It has also carried out projects in Timor-Leste, Laos, Cambodia, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Surbana Jurong has its headquarters in Singapore, the city state that is considered a model of urbanisation to many Asian countries.

Singapore’s Changi Airport, for example, has emerged as a global benchmark for airport design and user experience. Singapore also runs the world’s second largest shipping port and the busiest in terms of containerised traffic. On the housing front, Singapore balances green, sustainable spaces with the built environment through a robust housing programme that also deploys smart technology for 24/7 efficiency – many lifts in its public housing blocks are managed round-the-clock by a predictive lift monitoring system developed by Surbana Jurong.

The Surbana Jurong Group’s Southeast Asia business unit has a multidisciplinary team of local and international experts who can deliver best-in-class consultancy solutions across Southeast Asia and the Pacific in the areas of urban development, infrastructure development and management services, covering the entire project life cycle, from planning and design, through to delivery and management.

Southeast Asia project showcase

Many projects undertaken by the Surbana Jurong Group and its member companies demonstrate how the right urban, infrastructure and management services solutions can help sidestep the problems that come with rapid urbanisation.

Here are some projects in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region that support inclusive and sustainable development:

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Malaysia
Ulu Jelai: Providing more energy for a growing population and economy

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Ulu Jelai Hydroelectric Project.

The Ulu Jelai Hydroelectric Project contributes 326GWh of peak energy annually to Malaysia’s power supply system. SMEC, a member of the Surbana Jurong Group, was engaged by Tenaga Nasional Berhad for the tender and detailed design of the project, and later for the construction supervision and project management services. The project was designed to meet Malaysia’s increasing electricity demand, improve power system security, and help reduce the country’s overall carbon emissions.

The project involved building a dam and installing two hydro turbines and generators in an underground power station with a total installed capacity of 372MW in Cameron Highlands. It comprised the Susu Dam on Sungai Bertam, and two diversion weirs on Sungai Lemoi and Sungai Telom. The project started operations in July 2016.

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The Philippines
New Clark City: New urban centre with advanced transport system

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New Clark City and North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR).

New Clark City sits on 9,450ha of prime land in Central Luzon, north of Manila, and is envisioned to be the Philippines’ first smart, green and disaster-resilient metropolis. Located within the Clark Special Economic Zone in Tarlac, New Clark City is positioned to be a new metropolis where nature, lifestyle, business, education and industries converge.  It will be developed in four phases and is targeted for completion in 2065.

Surbana Jurong was engaged as the development manager for Phase 1 of the project, advising on the development strategy and driving implementation management such as the vision framework, design guidelines and investments.

The New Clark City project is being developed as efforts continue to improve the country’s transport systems, which SMEC is very much involved in. SMEC, with its established track record in world-class transport systems, is part of a joint venture led by Oriental Consultants Global Company Limited which has been appointed as General Consultant to manage and supervise the construction of the North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR Phase 1) Project. This is a 38-km-long commuter railway line that connects Malolos in the province of Bulacan to Tutuban in Manila. For Phase 2 of this project, Oriental Consultants has again engaged SMEC’s services for the basic and detailed design, which will ease travel from Clark, Pampanga in Central Luzon to Calamba, Laguna in Southern Luzon.

Funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the NSCR is part of an overall initiative by the Philippine government to expand the existing mass transportation in metropolitan Manila and adjacent areas, and alleviate serious traffic congestion. It is expected to benefit 200,000 commuters.

From our client:

“SMEC was a dedicated sub-consultant of Oriental Consultants in the successful delivery of the North South Commuter Railway (NSCR) Project Phase 1 (Tutuban – Malolos) and we are pleased to work with them once more for the NSCR Phase 2 project (Malolos - Clark Railway and North South Railway Project - South Line). SMEC continues to be helpful in delivering the project requirements and its people carry out their engineering services in a professional and friendly manner.”

Ichiro Miyakoshi, Project Director, NSCR, Philippines

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Indonesia
Walini: Catalyst for regional and economic growth

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Walini TOD project.

Surbana Jurong along is part of a team that will draw up the master plan for the 3,000ha Walini Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail Corridor. The contract was secured with PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC), the Consortium formed by PT Pilar Sinergi BUMN Indonesia and China Railway International.

With the developments and better accessibility to public transport, the TOD will become a catalyst for the regional and economic growth of Walini. It is envisioned to also facilitate the development of new residential townships to support the sustainability of the transport corridor.

"The vision for Walini is to become a future transit city of Indonesia. We believe this would create good opportunities for the people living in the area," said Mr Wong Heang Fine, Group CEO of Surbana Jurong.

The plan will seek to optimise land use and improve the social and economic status of the surrounding regions. It is expected that this effort will produce a model for a liveable and sustainable TOD to support integrated transportation for the country.

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Myanmar
Dagon Seikkan: Building township to meet growing housing demand

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Dagon Seikkan Township.

Surbana Jurong was engaged to provide master planning, architectural consultancy services, as well as civil & structural and mechanical & electrical engineering services for a 220-acre residential development within the Dagon Seikkan Township in Myanmar.

The Ayeyarwun and Yadana projects, built over 220 acres of land in Dagon Seikkan Township, are located approximately 15km east of Yangon Central Business District. Besides building affordable residences to meet growing housing demand, the area will be planned comprehensively with a wide range of social, educational, recreational and commercial amenities and facilities, which will provide convenience and quality lifestyle for the residents.

The Ayeyarwun and Yadana projects and their surroundings are being upgraded in cooperation with the Shwe Taung Development Company to become a “smart” district.

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Vietnam
Hamlet, Ho Chi Minh City: Planning for a Multi-Phase Urban Sub-centre

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Hamlet Waterfront Residential Master Plan.

This 200-ha mixed-use residential urban sub-centre will meet the needs of families looking for affordable housing near Ho Chi Minh City. Through phased planning and development aimed at increasing access to and within the area via waterways, linear parks, streets, and walkways, the long-term vision positions the development as an active urban sub-centre. Plans include a mix of housing types and community amenities including public services, commercial centres, recreational facilities, water features, and open spaces – all planned with a focus on walkable access.

While development will require some cut, fill and re-routing of watercourses, a low-impact approach will preserve the existing water system and water volumes – working with the forces of nature and the land to support sustainability and resiliency.

A crucial component of community participation and involvement will be a wetlands interpretive centre, acting as a regional attraction and a local resource teaching the community about the local ecosystem and how biomimetic systems can create a sustainable community. The project won First Prize in the Global Architecture, Construction & Design 2018.

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Vanuatu
R4D Project: Providing a model on helping rural communities achieve well-maintained, sustainable road network

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R4D Project.

From July 2013 to June 2018, SMEC was Managing Contractor for the Department of Foreign Affairs (Australian Aid) Roads for Development (R4D) programme, supporting Vanuatu’s Public Works Department. The programme aimed to provide the rural communities of Vanuatu with increased access to a well-maintained, sustainable road network. SMEC was responsible for the delivery of the physical component of this programme and building of institutional capacity to ensure continuity after handing over the project. 

An evaluation conducted at the end of the programme concluded that the proportion of Vanuatu’s rural population who have access to an all-year passable road increased by around 13%. This equates to an increase of around 2.6% per year during the five-year programme, much greater than the initial target of around 1% increase per year. These outcomes were achieved with broadly the same level of Australian Government investment as originally planned. With a more strategic focus combined with efficiency gains, R4D managed to achieve a greater impact in promoting accessibility.

From our client:

These ongoing systems and process improvements initiated by R4D will greatly assist helping young engineers remain motivated to continue working, servicing and improving infrastructure for communities in Vanuatu. This crop of Divisional Managers and Engineers (PWD personnel) have benefited so much from the capacity building component of the project and are especially able to use the knowledge gained to confidently plan, manage and deliver works.”

Fred Siba, Public Works Department (PWD) Divisional Manager for Malampa Province, Roads for Development (R4D), Vanuatu

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For more information on Surbana Jurong and its services in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Region, please contact:

Phillip San Jose
Director, Corporate Services, Southeast Asia
Surbana Jurong
Email: Phillip.SanJose@smec.com


References:
https://www.miti.gov.my/miti/resources/fileupload/ASEAN_Population%20Forecast.pdf
https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/south-eastern-asia-population/
https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/159312/adbi-asean-2030-borderless-economic-community.pdf pp 154-155.

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