Last updated: 13 March 2023
Published on: 05 March 2018
7 MINS READ
The north-eastern district will lead the way in transforming the way we work, live, play – and learn.
By Janice Lin
Imagine living in an estate where it never gets too hot or cold, regardless of the weather.
The air never smells terrible as waste is automatically transported underground, while the building you live in is powered by the sun.
Your home is convenient, with both your office – where you work as a machine learning engineer – and your son’s school just a few blocks away.
It’s a breeze to get to work each morning, and you travel there via e-scooter, passing by a scenic park and waterfront – stopping along the way to pick up your daily cup of coffee from a cafe operated by robots.
This may seem like a scenario from a science-fiction novel, but it is a vision of the future that Singapore aims to achieve in Punggol within the next decade.
Changing how we live, work, play and learn
The Punggol Digital District (PDD) is intended to be a model district of the future, and a key element in Singapore’s Smart Nation plan to transform the digital economy.
The PDD will turn Punggol North into a future-ready district that is driven by the newest innovations, creating digital-economy jobs and making everyday living more convenient and sustainable.
The project is made possible by a collaboration between JTC, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). Together, they have developed an integrated master plan, launched on 21 January 2018, to support the district’s unique role and serve the needs of its community.
“The Punggol Digital District will be an inclusive and ‘smart’ district where technology and social innovations transform the way we work, live, learn and play,” said Mr David Tan, JTC’s assistant chief executive officer, at a press briefing for the district’s launch.
The 50-hectare development will be Singapore’s first Enterprise District, which allows for a flexible mix of different land uses such as universities, business parks, community facilities and retail options in the same zone. Construction is set to begin this year, with the first few developments slated to be up and running by 2023, in line with the opening of the Punggol Coast MRT Station on the extended North East Line.
When completed, the zone intends to attract the top technology companies and house future-economy industries, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and more in a business park owned by JTC. This will help create an estimated 28,000 jobs that are relevant to the future economy.
The district will also be the new home for the SIT, which will move its campus there from 2023, while expanding its student capacity to 12,000 students.
The area’s designation as an Enterprise District will allow for a unique partnership, where SIT’s research laboratories and other learning facilities would be located within JTC’s buildings, while JTC would be able to create start-up spaces within SIT’s campus. This space exchange will serve to promote open collaboration among students, innovators and entrepreneurs.
“We think that this will create a very unique opportunity to encourage cross-pollination between industry and academia in ways never thought possible,” said Ms Angeline Poh, IMDA’s assistant chief executive (Industry Development). “It will also create (in) the Punggol Digital District a very inviting place for test-bedding new innovative solutions… and when they prove to be successful, they can be scaled beyond (the district).”
Innovations for a more sustainable living
The district also intends to go green from day one, with many of the plans and innovations to be deployed optimising energy use and support sustainability.
One such innovation is an experimental multi-energy urban micro-grid that will integrate gas, electricity and thermal energy into a smart network and power the SIT’s new campus. This micro-grid, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, is “a key aspect in building energy resilience”, said SIT president Professor Tan Thiam Soon. It will also serve as a research platform on which other stakeholders in the energy ecosystem can collaborate.
To enhance community living, the district will make use of IoT technologies, such as environmental sensors to monitor air quality and noise in buildings. Its integrated facilities management system will centralise the operations of all building services and, among other things, use AI and machine learning to detect changes in the weather and adjust to optimal temperature settings. To keep the air fresh and odourless, an automated, pneumatic waste-conveyance system will be used to transport waste via an underground pipe network to be sealed in containers.
Meanwhile, the wider public areas will be walkable and easily accessible via bicycles and personal mobility devices like e-scooters.
To transform the area into a vibrant waterfront town, a 1.3km Heritage Trail for pedestrians will be built to serve as a green link between the district and the Punggol Waterway as well as the upcoming Punggol Point residential district. Recreational amenities, such as a hawker centre that taps on e-payment technologies, a community club and new retail and dining options, will also be built.
Digital by design, global by default
Taken together, the PDD will be a living example of how digital innovations can enhance and enrich the way Singaporeans live, work, play and learn.
“Punggol will anchor the northeast region and will be the key in driving Singapore’s relevance and competitive edge in the digital economy, in this age of disruptive technology,” said Ms Hwang Yu-Ning, the district’s chief planner and acting deputy CEO at the URA.
Ms Poh said that when the district is fully developed, the vision is for PDD to become “a hub of high value digital companies and a home for key capabilities in the digital space”.
Stressing that the future economy is one where the use of technology is ubiquitous, she added: “When technology is so pervasive, businesses must go digital to remain relevant and to thrive. And when Singapore businesses become digital by design, they will become global by default.”
As for residents, many are eagerly awaiting the creation of new amenities and jobs in the neighbourhood.
A resident, who wanted to be known only as Mr Eu, commented: “As an IT professional, I am looking forward to more such jobs being created here. It’s great to be able to have an office so near home.”
Photo credit: Watertown Punggol and Punggol Town Centre by Deoma12 licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Images have been cropped.