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Singapore and the Contemporary Right to the City

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Singapore and the Contemporary Right to the City

When Henri Lefebvre first conceived of the right to the city in 1968, the Internet had not yet been invented; today, it is impossible to imagine a world without it. Advances in technology have allowed for dramatic improvements in the standard of living, and citizens in cities should have the right to realize these benefits. Singapore is striving to become a smart city, and has incorporated information and communication technology throughout the city that has resulted in improvements in transportation, sustainability, convenience and productivity. The contemporary right to the city is one in which all citizens have the right of access to technology, and Singapore is one city where this right is being satisfied. Lefebvre argued that every citizen, regardless of demographic should have the right of access to jobs, services, land and homes, and the right to contribute in changes to the city. While all of these rights certainly remain applicable today, the contemporary right to the city is one that also includes access to technology. Singapore is one of the densest cities in the world, with over 7,000 people per square kilometer, and as the city has become increasingly urbanized, it has turned to technology in order to ensure that the quality of life remains high. The city has undertaken a massive project to transform itself into one of the smartest cities in the world, with the government spending tens of billions of dollars on innovation. Their efforts have certainly paid off, as there are countless benefits that citizens are able to now experience. Technology is helping Singapore not only improve the city, but also the lives of those residing in it. Singapore ranks first on the Asian Siemens Green Cities list as a result of impressive policies and technologies that have improved sustainability. One example of the city’s innovative approach of coupling technology and the environment are the eighteen fifty-meter high supertrees that the city has erected. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, they operate as temperature moderators, collect rainwater, act as ventilation ducts, and several are outfitted with photovoltaic cells to generate solar power. Singapore has a world-class water management program consisting of rainwater catchment, wastewater recycling and desalination. While desalination requires a lot of energy, the government is exploring energy reduction technologies that would be 50 percent more efficient than the current method. In an effort to encourage residents to take public transportation, real-time travel information is supplied online and to mobile phones in order for commuters to plan their journeys. The city has also established a committee on sustainable development that will focus in part on developing technologies to help balance growth with sustainability. The city is using high-tech solutions to combat a number of traditional problems that high-density urban areas face. Singapore is outfitted with an extensive network of cameras for security, and there are sensors that have been placed in public housing buildings that sense earthquake tremors and send real-time text messages to city engeneers to request building inspections. While technology has improved safety, it is also greatly aiding mobility. Technology implanted in intersections allow elderly and disabled residents to use special cards that they tap against the light pole to extend crossing time. Singapore has a network of sensors, cameras and GPS devices that predict future congestion and alert drivers to alternate routes. This system is used not only to aid commuters, but also to manage emergency services and plan for the future. The city also has one of the most reliable and modern metro systems in the world that is outfitted with the most recent technology; the system covers almost the entire city, and commuters rarely wait more than a few minutes for trains. Finally, the government has dedicated itself to ensuring citizens have easy access to the Internet. A super-fast next generation broadband network reaches 95 percent of homes and businesses in Singapore, and there are roughly 5200 wireless hotspots in parks, shopping centers, libraries and restaurants around the city. The hotspot program, called Wireless@SG, is sponsored by the government and data providers and aims to allow people to be connected away from their homes, schools and offices. Although Singapore is doing an excellent job of fulfilling the contemporary right to the city, it is being breached in some ways. Despite the city having a an unemployment rate of just 1.9 percent and per capita income of 56,000 dollars, income disparity is growing significantly among the bottom 30 percent. According to one estimate, 28 percent of Singaporeans live below the poverty line, earning less than 1200 dollars a month. This large percentage of poor individuals may lack the financial resources to be able to benefit from the technological innovations that the city offers. In addition, there are many impoverished neighborhoods that lie outside of the downtown core that have largely been ignored in the development of the smart city; these zones do not receive the same benefit of those living in the more developed and technologically advanced areas. Additionally, the aforementioned free wireless hotspots around the city have received funding cuts from the government, and the wireless carriers that provide the service have begun backing out. As a result, the number of hotspots has fallen from 7,500 to 5,200, the price of Internet contracts are increasing, and there has been opposition from the roughly 2.26 million users of the service. While the free wireless hotspots still exist in many locations, privatization of this convenience is resulting in the infringement of the right to the city. Singapore is alive with information – streams of data run through almost every part of the city’s physical geography. Due to Singapore’s investments in technology, the city is better serving its citizens and making the city an easier, better place to live. Technology has evolved significantly since Lefebvre initially wrote the right to the city, and we can now use technology to make cities safer, reduce risk, improve transportation and mobility, enhance productivity and promote sustainability. The contemporary right to the city is that people must have the right to experience these multifaceted benefits associated with technology, and Singapore is accomplishing that for its residents.

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[ 2 ]. http://www.governing.com/topics/economic-dev/gov-singapore-smartest-city.html
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[ 6 ]. http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679819/singapore-is-on-its-way-to-becoming-an-iconic-smart-city
[ 7 ]. http://www.governing.com/topics/economic-dev/gov-singapore-smartest-city.html
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[ 11 ]. http://www.governing.com/topics/economic-dev/gov-singapore-smartest-city.html
[ 12 ]. http://thehearttruths.com/2013/10/28/poverty-in-singapore-grew-from-16-in-2002-to-28-in-2013/
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