As Asian cities urbanise at an unprecedented rate in history, young people are moving from rural areas to cities, seeking fairer access to education, jobs, housing, transportation and amenities of liveable city life. As demands on resources intensify, policy-makers are grappling with more complex infrastructural and socio-economic challenges.
Against this backdrop, Singapore Management University (SMU) recently launched the SMU Urban Institute (UI), a new research institute dedicated to the study of human-centred aspects of urbanisation, with a focus on balancing urban growth and sustainability.
Helming the new institute as its Director is SMU Associate Professor of Geography Orlando Woods. He says, “Whilst many urban planning and design models might draw on the examples of Western cities, it has become increasingly important to learn from the Asian urban experience to better understand how to address the challenges faced by our fast-growing cities.”
UI will address the sensory, socio-cultural and economic experiences of living in a city, the inequalities arising from wealth accumulation, and how infrastructure in terms of buildings, policy and regulation might limit or enable the growth of cities. Through a multi-and inter-disciplinary lens focused on Asian cities, the institute will engage with scholars, policymakers, communities and industry as a platform for cities to learn from one another, and explore collaborative solutions for sustainable urban development.
Commitment to collaboration
Underlying its commitment to sharing expertise, SMU inked a partnership with Thammasat University’s Design School at the launch of the institute. This will facilitate the exchange of research materials; students and researchers; and the joint organisation of seminars and symposiums.
SMU UI is also in talks with the University of Melbourne (UniMelb) and the University of Toronto (UOT) on a variety of urban research collaborations. SMU and the Melbourne Centre for Cities are planning to partner in a joint event for regional city leaders at the upcoming World Cities Summit in Singapore; while SMU and UOT have hosted a joint grant call to foster collaborative urban-related research on the theme of “Migration, Thriving and Belonging”.
The research pillars of the new institute
Spanning the disciplines of urban geography, urban and behavioural economics, public policy, operations management and geospatial data analytics, UI will consolidate SMU’s existing urban-related research and generate new research directions. It will focus its research on three pillars.
Urban Life, the first, seeks to explore what makes cities liveable, while Urban Growth studies inequalities and challenges of urban development. The third, Urban Infrastructure, looks at how hard infrastructure (materials) and soft infrastructures (such as social, legal or regulatory constraints) affect how cities evolve.
“Our investment in establishing UI cannot be overstated,” observes SMU President, Professor Lily Kong. She adds: “It is about undertaking deep, rigorous research to enhance our understanding of cities. But more than that, it is about laying the groundwork for liveable, resilient, and inclusive cities in Asia. As Asian cities grow at an unprecedented pace, the transformative potential of the UI becomes even more pronounced.”