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Smart Cities: Solutions to South-East Asia’s Urban Challenges

22 Oct 2019
By Melissa Conley Tyler FAIIA and Massimo Campagna
Asialink, Source: Two Gongs Media @twogongs, Flickr,

Urban areas across South-East Asia are fraught with challenges. Environmental problems, questions regarding resilience and governance are all issues confronting the region in the modern day. 

Jakarta, the region’s largest city, faces immediate challenges of severe subduction. Singapore, one of the region’s strongest financial hubs, faces increasingly pressing issues of flooding and traffic, as Ho Chi Minh City struggles to meet the expectations of a rapidly expanding urban area. Fortunately, youth around the region are motivated in tackling these challenges.

Each of these cities showcased the Australia-ASEAN Emerging Leaders Program (A2ELP), a program involving a group of 15 social entrepreneurs from Australia and ASEAN countries to address critical regional challenges. Its theme of Smart Cities centred around the pertinent issues of urban resilience, climate change preparedness, disaster management, governance and resource management – all of which are considered challenges confronting both South-East Asia and Australia alike.

There is a need to awaken and mobilise the youth of the region to ensure that their own determined contributions can be realised. The youth population of Asia already comprises a significant percentage of the population and will be the generation that will have to confront and manage these issues. Their understanding of urban issues, as well as their entrepreneurialism and innovation, will be key in ensuring their countries’ competitiveness, resilience and continued growth in the future.

The three-month leadership program, facilitated by Asialink at the University of Melbourne with support from DFAT through the Australia-ASEAN Council and Australia Now, gave ten ASEAN and five Australian delegates the opportunity to undertake a three-month leadership program to showcase their entrepreneurialism and innovation, including an eight-day intensive program to these South-East Asian cities.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s bustling southern metropolis, is confronting a range of challenges in regards to urbanisation, but were met with equally creative responses. The use of new technologies is allowing the city to enhance its responses to issues of food security, mobility, employment and infrastructure in the hope of increasing its resilience to predicated and unforeseen shocks. 

Singapore, one of the world’s richest cities, faces its own challenges in environmental resilience. Resilience in a Changing World, part of the Future Cities program, explored how urban resilience can be harnessed by mobilising and engaging with local communities, and how this can be translated into meaningful sustainability in a vulnerable environment. 

In Jakarta, the city facing perhaps the most urgent and pertinent issues of resilience,  Qlue Smart City shared the challenges the city is facing with rapid urbanisation, decreasing climate adaptability and large-scale subduction problems, and how technology, data analysis and collaborative governance can create real change in a dynamic urban environment.

Solutions such as harnessing mobile technology to create mobility apps for visually-impaired populations, constructing migrant accommodation for industrial workers, or converting non-recyclable materials into petrol were all showcased at the A2ELP by the entrepreneurs in response to these prominent urban issues, showcasing contemporary Australian and South-East Asian creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and strengthening the bonds and institutional networks between Australia and South-East Asia. For a full list of innovations presented at the 2019 A2ELP, visit this page.

Regional connections will be vital for the future of the region and are essential for ongoing cooperation. Greater connections between the region’s social entrepreneurs will unlock the capacity to create smarter and more resilient cities across the region.

Melissa Conley Tyler, Director of Diplomacy, and Massimo Campagna, Research Assistant, Asialink at the University of Melbourne.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.