To minimise the risk of spread of COVID-19, The URA Centre is closed until further notice. Members of the public are to use our e-services. Read more here.

Harnessing the Power of Digital Technologies

  Published: 26 November 2017
  Theme: Smart Planning

Planning tools

Planning in today's dynamic operating environment requires a holistic understanding of the city as an ecosystem. In the past, it was more difficult to form an overall picture and generate multiple scenarios without the benefit of consolidated, up-to-date, and real-time information. This is changing thanks to digitalisation.

New tools are emerging that bring together all available data on a single platform for advanced analysis and visualisation. The ability to overlay, merge and model different layers of data makes it possible to quickly and easily uncover new relationships and patterns. These can help to reduce uncertainty and ‘what if’ elements of the urban planning equation.

Integrated Long Term Planning of Land Use and Services

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is developing the Geospatial Information System (GIS)-Enabled Mapping Modelling and Analysis (GEMMA) decision support tool for planners to conduct integrated planning analytics and simulation. This is developed through an R&D collaboration with the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), and partnership with other planning agencies.

GEMMA provides planners across multiple agencies ready access to a rich set of map-based data required for planning such as existing and future land use commitments; transport network performance; population demography; as well as location and capacities of utilities and amenities. It also has a function for planners to compose planning scenarios, analyze the different site options, and assess its impact from a local to island-wide level. Planners can jointly assess planning options and inter-dependencies more easily, further strengthening the integrated planning process in Singapore to deliver better outcomes for people and businesses.

For example, GEMMA allows planners to quickly identify which area in Singapore is more accessible via public transport today (e.g. within 30min from the green areas, more than 1hr from the red areas), derived from travel time and its reach to the population and jobs within the area. Planners can then analyse how accessibility can be improved if new MRT and/ or bus services are added. They can also identify suitable locations for different types of uses such as job centres or major amenities.


Figure 1: Available sites to locate facilities and amenities and potential household catchment.

Planners can also use GEMMA to visualize the available sites to locate facilities within walking distance from homes or transport nodes, and provide the potential household catchment within walking distances from each site. This allows planners to identify more optimal sites to locate new facilities and amenities to better serve the needs of residents.

Planning for a Comfortable Environment

Planning however, is not limited to demographic shifts and land demand. Climate-sensitive urban planning is also necessary to maintain a cool and comfortable living environment while meeting our development needs.

URA is working with the A*STAR Institute for High Performance Computing to develop an environmental simulation planning tool known as QUEST. QUEST allows users to simulate the combined impact of climate conditions and urban developments on people’s thermal comfort levels. By integrating a global climate model with an urban scale computational fluid dynamics model and statistical analyses, microclimatic simulations can be created for Singapore at multiple scales ranging from the island-wide down to the estate and building levels. At the building level, QUEST can also be used to simulate the impact of the UHI effect on cooling loads. Going beyond present-day analyses, future climate change and urban development scenarios can also be simulated to guide long term plans.

When completed, QUEST will help improve our understanding of Singapore’s current urban microclimate and enable planners to assess the impact of future development plans on thermal comfort levels. Where problematic areas are expected, various intervention strategies such as increasing greenery and adjusting building orientation and massing for shading and good wind flow can be tested and compared using the model for their effectiveness, thereby facilitating climate-sensitive urban planning.


Figure 2: Simulating the impact of developments on thermal comfort.

Staying ahead of the Curve

The GEMMA and QUEST tool demonstrates how cities can leverage new digital technologies in the planning process and provide planners with a more holistic understanding of the urban system. Developing such digital tools are becoming a necessity. Cities dynamism and complexity in our rapidly changing world requires us to push the methodological boundaries of traditional approaches – demanding faster procedures, better integration of data, and seamless coordination across government, and faster means to evaluate performance. It is no surprise then that cities have a lot of potential to plan with higher granularity to create a better living environment.


This research is supported by the Singapore Ministry of National Development and the National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office under the Land and Liveability National Innovation Challenge (L2 NIC) Research Programme (L2 NIC Award No. L2NICTDF1-2016-2 (GEMMA), L2NICTDF1-2015-1 (QUEST)).

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of the Singapore Ministry of National Development and National Research Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office, Singapore.