Opening Address by SMS Sim Ann at World Cities Summit 2024 Future Cities - Rejuvenating Urban Spaces Session

Jun 4, 2024

Good morning, and I wish to extend a big thank you to all panellists and everyone here for joining us today at the World Cities Summit (WCS) Future Cities: Rejuvenating Urban Spaces by Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, very fondly known as HDB.


Cities have long been centres of innovation and progress, but above all, they are cherished homes for people. As cities evolve and new challenges emerge, our past decisions may require reassessment and rectification to better meet new needs.

Traditional zoning regulations were designed to ensure land is earmarked for different needs, but we have shifted towards mixed-use developments in favour of more dynamic and sustainable urban environments.

Cities have also invested in highway infrastructure in the 1950s for automobiles to facilitate movement of goods and people, but we are shifting towards pedestrian-friendly infrastructure that prioritises liveability. The Big Link project in Antwerp is one such example, where the city is working to cover up the Ring Road and direct cars underground, so that green spaces aboveground can have cleaner air for pedestrians. 

The most progressive and future-oriented cities must embrace a mindset of continuous improvement and adapt to changing contexts, such as those of an ageing population, climate change and the growing importance of public spaces.

Redeveloping for our ageing population

With increasing life expectancy and low fertility rates, the proportion of Singapore’s citizen population aged 65 years and above is rising rapidly. It is estimated that by 2030, one in four people will be in this age category and we know that many of our seniors wish to age-in-place.

To prepare for this silver generation, we have launched Age Well SG, a national programme to support seniors in ageing well in their homes and communities. This cuts across areas of housing, transport, active ageing and care services, and requires holistic coordination and planning across Government, healthcare and the social sectors.

In the physical living environment, we are upgrading our homes to become more senior-friendly. We are subsidising the installation of senior-friendly features like wall-mounted foldable shower seats and widened bathroom entrances in HDB flats under our Enhancement for Active Seniors programme (EASE). We will also be providing all seniors aged 60 and above who are living in public rental housing with a wireless Alert Alarm System, which is an emergency call button linked to a 24/7 telecare hotline. These measures may seem minor for planners overseeing large cities, but they have significant impact over our elderly residents’ safety and their day-to-day experiences.

Outside of homes, we are upgrading our neighbourhoods to help seniors move around independently and remain socially engaged. This includes amenities, such as fitness trails and therapeutic gardens, that encourage our seniors to socialise and live active and healthy lifestyles, as well as more rest points and barrier-free ramps for seniors to get around the neighbourhood with ease. Larger and more colourful signages with symbols will also help seniors navigate our estates.

For seniors who would benefit from assisted-living options, we launched Community Care Apartments (CCAs). This is a new public housing typology that pairs senior-friendly housing designs with on-site care services, such as 24-hour emergency monitoring and response, basic health checks and home fixes, as well as group activities. 

We have also been piloting other new purpose-built senior housing typologies, such as the co-location of senior housing with social and community facilities at Kampung Admiralty, as well as a sandbox programme on Shared Stay-in Senior Care Services, to trial the feasibility of having live-in domestic helpers to care for several seniors sharing one apartment. As we continue to explore new ways to support our seniors, we will need continued research to inform our decisions. To this end, we are working on a project with the National University of Singapore under the Cities of Tomorrow R&D programme, to understand and evaluate the influence of different senior housing typologies on the quality of life of our seniors. The aim of this study is to enhance the planning, design and provision of future senior housing, taking into account the diverse needs, evolving preferences and changing aspirations of future seniors who may be living alone or with their families. 

More importantly, Government-led efforts need to be complemented by community input and feedback from seniors who know best what they need. The Age+ Living Lab is one such community-led collaboration that brings together businesses, social enterprises and researchers to help seniors age better at home. The lab fosters a two-way exchange where seniors and their caregivers can physically try out innovative assistive products, so that solution providers can obtain feedback and finetune the products to cater to seniors’ needs. 

Adapting to Climate Change

Outside of internal changes to our population, cities will also need to address the existential threat of climate change. For many cities, adapting to climate change has been a core principle of their urban planning for decades. Vienna, for example, had the foresight to construct the New Danube flood control channel and Danube Island to protect the city from catastrophic river flows from the Danube River. This proved instrumental 32 years later in minimising damage during a torrential downpour in July 2021. How else can we embody this spirit of proactiveness and adaptability today?

Singapore had established its vision of being a Garden City back in 1967, with a focus on intensifying our greenery for beauty and liveability. In our next bound, we are embarking on our transformation into a City in Nature, weaving nature more deliberately and extensively into our urban fabric.  

One way we do this is by naturalising more of our existing green and blue spaces that are intertwined with our estates. Concrete canals, which are typically seen as hard and purely functional structures, have been converted into meandering streams with vegetated wetlands at places like Kallang River and Sungei Tampines. These new wetlands host wildlife and slow down water runoff to reduce flash floods, allowing both the city and nature to coexist. 

Our trees also play a crucial role in mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration and temperature regulation. However, they are simultaneously subject to more stress given extreme temperature and weather patterns. To better care for our trees, we have implemented a new greenery management model supported by technology. For example, our Remote Tree Management System enables arborists to automate the inventory mapping of trees. The Tree Structural Model helps predict tree stability under wind conditions, and panoramic imagery collected during Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scans allow arborists to inspect trees remotely. Altogether, these tools help us manage our precious greenery better and more efficiently so that they can continue supporting our fight against climate change.

Conserving public spaces

Lastly, we recognise that public spaces play an increasingly crucial role as the third place in urban environments, complementing the home as the first and the workplace as the second. These spaces serve as anchors of community life and platforms for artistic expression.

While many are turning to online spaces as a semblance to a third place, research has shown that they cannot replace physical third places, especially for the growing ageing population. We experienced first-hand during the pandemic how Zoom and smartphones, while useful, cannot replace our public spaces in building social relationships.

By fostering collaboration between government, communities and private organisations, we can transform neglected physical spaces into vibrant hubs. These developments do not come by chance, but are the result of careful and extensive public consultations across years.

When the Rail Corridor in Singapore outlived its original function as a railway line between Singapore and Malaysia, we worked to transform the space into a green artery that connects our communities, and allow all to have access to urban nature and experience the conserved heritage features.

Working closely with stakeholders like our Rail Corridor Partnership, and now the Friends of Rail Corridor, over the years, we developed the vision for the Rail Corridor with a three-way balance in mind.

First, to safeguard the Rail Corridor as a continuous green corridor – for nature to thrive and for communities of all ages and abilities to enjoy. Second, to celebrate the heritage along the Rail Corridor by conserving, restoring, and repurposing key railway buildings and elements. Third, to optimise the development of land parcels adjacent to the Rail Corridor, to meet Singaporeans’ needs for homes, jobs, and amenities both now and in the future.


All in all, challenges posed by our changing environments can be daunting, but they are not insurmountable. Urban rejuvenation efforts are a testament to our commitment to sustain the high standards of our cities no matter what the future holds.

Let us embark on this journey toward our future cities, where every street corner tells a story of resilience, every building stands as a monument to progress, and every citizen enjoys the promise of a better tomorrow. I look forward to our dialogue today and wish all a fruitful session. Thank you.