Picture this scenario: An elderly man is taking a stroll alone in the neighborhood when he suddenly clutches his chest in pain, gripped by a cardiac arrest. Gasping for breath, he collapses to the ground.
But a passer-by spots the man in distress and quickly calls the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), which activates an alert on its myResponder app to users within 400 meters of the incident. A trained volunteer, known as a Community First Responder, who is nearby, receives the alert. He rushes to the scene and quickly resuscitates the patient, saving the man’s life.
In the past, this senior might not have been so lucky. But today, in Singapore, mobile applications like myResponder have drastically reduced the time required for emergency responses. In serious events like a cardiac arrest, each minute can mean the difference between life or death.
Such innovative technology has been a key enabler in making Singapore a safer and more age-friendly city for its elderly population. In countries facing the ‘silver-tsunami’ of an ageing society such as ourselves, South Korea, and Japan, this is especially imperative. With people leading longer lives, cities must accordingly cater to these needs.
These technologies are a small step in the right direction towards achieving a modern, inclusive city of the 21st century. And more needs to be done for not only the elderly but for different and all segments of the population, from the less abled to women – all valuable and crucial components of society.
Cities need to respond with a tune-up to meet the unique needs of these diverse groups. If we are to build thriving communities for the future, it is important that these sprawling urban developments are inclusive and progressive for all.
An inclusive city is a better city
The advantages of building inclusive cities are multifold.
For one thing, inclusive cities are typically more livable thanks to better infrastructure. When cities move to upgrade their public transport systems, for instance, they can boost convenience and safety in commuting for women, seniors and the disabled. In Singapore, city planners have introduced ramps for the disabled and made bus stops more well-lit for women’s safety at night. They have also rolled out a system at pedestrian crossings, known as Green Man +, that allows elderly and disabled pedestrians to tap their concession cards for more time to cross the roads, among other efforts.
Second, an inclusive city makes for a prosperous city. Take the issue of talent. It used to be that the aged and less abled were seen as less productive workers – but this is no longer the case. With the advent of technology such as artificial intelligence, remote work and cloud computing, these segments of workers can continue to make valuable contributions to society. This is particularly important in small economies such as Singapore, where the tight labor market can pose problems to companies.
Lastly, inclusive cities bring communities together. They create networks of support that strengthen the social fabric. One example is Singapore’s Dementia Friends app, a national platform used to spread awareness about the affliction. It even facilitates searches for missing patients while providing tips on how to communicate with people who have dementia.
Leave no one behind
Building such cities requires policymakers to go back to basics: by ensuring that a city’s public services are accessible to everyone. That is where universal urban design comes in.
This concept is centered on having a user-friendly built environment for all. In Singapore, for instance, public bathrooms are fitted with large pictographs to help the visually impaired locate them better. Elsewhere in South Korea’s capital city of Seoul, public washrooms feature foot switches and automatic doors that minimise contact at high-touchpoint areas – coming in particularly useful in these pandemic times. While inclusive design is often largely tied to better infrastructure, we also should expand it to encapsulate other areas. Digital technology, as highlighted earlier, is another useful tool to maximise the potential of an inclusive city.
COVID-19 has now accelerated this digitalisation trend. In Singapore, the pandemic has especially been game-changing for e-payments. Contactless transactions have risen exponentially, with everyone seeking to minimise physical contact.
But there is a catch to using these modern, ever-evolving technologies. Some, especially the elderly, may find it difficult to keep up with the constant software updates and patches. To ensure that no one gets left behind, public services and the private sector will need to work together to ensure the adoption and accessibility of technology across different segments of the population.
For instance, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) has assisted hawkers in making the digital leap to adopt e-payment platforms, establish an online presence on platforms like Facebook, and facilitate consumer demand through group buys. Such moves have helped many understand the benefits of going digital and adapt to dine-in restrictions currently imposed.
This shows that if we harness digital technology the right way, the possibilities are limitless. Using it as a safety measure is yet another example. Worldwide, there is a worrying trend of women feeling unsafe on the streets at night.
Mobile apps offer a solution to this issue. The use of safety apps allows for emergency alarms to be activated when distress is sensed. They could also provide safe routes of passage for users, allowing women to avoid problematic hotspots at night during their journeys.
Lastly, we will need to provide more opportunities for active citizenry to foster more inclusive cities. A recent study by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy found that while most people are often willing to help in times of need, they are often held back by a lack of knowledge on how to help. For instance, many are not trained in performing CPR, reducing them to becoming bystanders when a medical emergency occurs.
To that end, we will need to deploy more resources to spread awareness and provide training courses. This way, everyone has the chance to help keep a city safe and secure.
More broadly, it is about building a smart, human-centered society that leverages technology to satisfy the needs of different segments of the population while maintaining meaningful connections – where citizens can tap on each other for help, even organising themselves as communities to barter trade for services or whatever they may need. This in turn strengthens the sense of community and solidarity spirit for a more inclusive society.
By deploying digital technology, providing opportunities for participation, and eliminating barriers, inclusive cities can be beacons of possibilities where all can thrive.
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