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Making ‘more out of less’ for future urban development

A panel at the 2017 Milken Institute Global Conference said the blend of technology innovations and real world needs will drive the future growth of cities.

Technology and the need to efficiently use resources is driving urban development in cities around the world, experts said on Monday at the 2017 Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles.

Singapore, a 224-square-mile city-country with 5.5 million people and limited water resources, is the perfect example of these trends, according to Hang Chee Chan. Chan heads the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, which has played a leading role in helping Singapore meet its challenges as a growing mega-city.

“What we have done is to use technology to change the urban landscape,” Chan said. “We plan to make more out of less. We have used technology to produce more land and to produce water.”

Singapore is creating close to 75 square miles of usable land by building developments as much as 325 feet underground, she explained. It's also been focusing on creating incentives for rooftop farming.

To solve water scarcity, Chan said Singapore has deployed large-scale drains to act as catchment areas to store rainfall. Combined with water purification, Singapore is aiming to produce 55 percent of its own water by 2050.

“The greatest leaps in terms of growth and productivity have occurred when technology and innovation have ultimately gotten integrated into the physical environment,” Daniel Doctoroff, chief executive of Sidewalk Labs, an initiative launched by Google parent company Alphabet, explained.

Sidewalk Labs is Alphabet's innovation organisation aiming to improve urban infrastructure through technology. The company is working on developing an entire city district built “from the internet up,” Doctoroff said.

However, Don Katz, founder of New Jersey-based Newark Venture Partners, warned of “unintended consequences” when technology is forced on an area that isn't compatible. He said a tax credit offered to Newark to lure in clean energy companies has not led to any new job growth.

“One of the things tech can do is to make sure they're actually growing jobs in the right places rather than in lead situations,” Katz explained.

Tech companies should find the “calling card to draw economic growth in,” he said. Newark Venture Partners has invested heavily in Newark's fibre optic cable networks after Katz said he learned the city was a major regional hub for internet infrastructure.

Newark has drawn over 1,200 data-intensive tech companies, such as virtual reality, that are attracted to Newark's high internet speeds, according to Katz. He said the city is now undergoing a makeover with $2 billion of ongoing construction and more businesses moving in.

“Capacious fiber will unleash another era, repositioning Newark,” Katz said.