Asia Pacific is set to pass a major milestone in 2018: The United Nations predictsthat more than half its population will be living in cities by then, meaning the region can no longer be regarded as predominantly rural. 

More than 2 billion of the region’s 4.3 billion people already live in urban areas, and another 1 billion will join them by 2040. But already, many Asian cities are buckling under the stress of this unprecedented rate of urbanisation.

Slums, hazardous air pollution levels, mountains of unprocessed waste, and the dreaded practice of load-shedding — that is, intentional power cuts in some areas engineered to prevent a city-wide blackout — are just a few visible symptoms of the stress on the economic, transport, waste management, and energy infrastructure of cities. 

1. Shioashiya, Japan: A net-zero energy town 

Tucked away in a corner of Ashiya city in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture, Shioashiya is a town designed and developed by PanaHome, a subsidiary housing company of Japanese electronics giant Panasonic.

Shioashiya, which houses 400 detached houses as well as an 83-unit condominium complex, is PanaHome’s first attempt to develop a smart city as an independent project. But this has not stopped it from setting the ambitious aim of wanting to be a net zero energy city.  

Launched in 2012, Shioashiya spans about 120,000 square metres, and is designed to accommodate 9,000 people; every house and community facility, as well as the overall town layout, has been designed to reduce energy use and maximise opportunities to use renewable power.

2. Songdo, Korea: Not a garbage truck in sight 

For most urban residents, the unpleasant whiff of a passing garbage truck is part and parcel of city living. But visitors to Songdo International Business District in South Korea will quickly notice that there are no waste collection vehicles plying the streets. 

This is because the smart city — a 600-hectare expanse of urban area built from scratch on reclaimed land as a private real estate development project — has a waste collection system using pneumatic tubes. Any trash that is thrown into a bin at home or on the street is transported directly to a central sorting and disposal facility, where it is recycled or incinerated.

3. Singapore: Billion dollar smart technology hub

Smart technology undoubtedly has the potential to make cities more sustainable; but if done right, it can also bolster a country’s economy and create new opportunities for entrepreneurs and attracting international investment. 

Singapore, for example, has used its ambition to become the world’s first Smart Nation as a springboard for positioning itself as Asia Pacific’s hub for entrepreneurship and innovation.

To do this, the city-state has invited firms from around the world to use Singapore as a “living lab” to test and commercialise new technology solutions, and has in the last 10 years invested more than US$22 billion in research and development efforts.