Opening Remarks by 2M Indranee Rajah at the World Cities Summit 2021 Preview
Jan 29, 2021
Thank you for joining us at our World Cities Summit (WCS) 2021 Preview. The upcoming Summit in June will mark the seventh time that the event is held, and the first time that it will include virtual elements.
The theme of the 2021 edition of WCS is “Liveable and Sustainable Cities: Adapting to a Disrupted World”. Though the theme was determined quite a while ago in the second half of 2019, it remains relevant and is extremely apt given the COVID-19 situation that the world is facing today.
Revisiting city planning amidst COVID-19
Cities around the world have had to make major adjustments in response to the global pandemic, to safeguard public health and the safety of our family, friends and the community. We have had to quickly put in place measures to enforce safe distancing, limit large gatherings, and implement guidelines for mask wearing, amongst others. Not only was it a race against time to combat the spread of the virus within our communities, but we also had to collectively work to change our social norms and behaviour in a short period of time.
The pandemic has also forced us to relook at how cities are planned and built, so that our future cities can be safer and more resilient against crises.
Compact cities and their resilience to pandemics
In response to COVID-19, many cities have had to put in place various measures to curb the spread of the virus amongst the community. These have included lockdowns, and guidelines to prevent people from congregating at work and public spaces. These have resulted in the hollowing out of city downtowns and Central Business Districts. Though these measures have inconvenienced many, they have also highlighted the importance of easy access to daily necessities and public spaces, and the need for spaces to be planned for multiple uses in order for them to be resilient.
Cities with self-sufficient neighbourhoods where healthcare, schools, eateries, parks and essential retail and offices, are within easy reach of people’s homes by foot or public transportation, have been helpful for residents who are unable to venture out far to run errands due to the restrictions imposed by various cities.
This “compact city” model not only seems to work well in these troubled times, but also promotes greener and more liveable cities. People rely less on private car transportation and more on active modes and public transportation, which reduces carbon emissions.
Many cities around the world have started adopting similar aspects from the “compact city” model in their own urban planning. Paris is pursuing the goal of “15-minute cities”, where a Parisian’s needs are within a 15-minute walk or bike ride. Barcelona already has several superblocks of self-contained neighbourhoods where car use is restricted, and will be closing 21 more streets to form even more of such blocks.
Nature-based solutions in city planning
The use of nature-based solutions is another concept which is gaining momentum in city planning. Apart from absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, nature-based solutions harness nature’s properties to mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, grasses can be planted in small depressions to form rain gardens, or made to form shallow stormwater channels called vegetated swales. These help slow down, filter and infiltrate stormwater runoff to prevent urban floods. Mangroves swamps can also mitigate coastal erosion.
Many other cities are incorporating this approach in their urban planning. In Haikou, the wetlands of the Meishe River collect, store and drain storm waters to mitigate floods. They also clean 6,000 tons of urban runoff from the local urban villages. In Rotterdam and Portland, residents are encouraged to install green roofs which not only store stormwater runoff and prevent urban floods, but also give residents more opportunities to interact with nature.
Planning in Singapore
In Singapore’s urban landscape, you can find elements of both the compact city concept, and nature-based solutions. One example is how Singapore’s public housing agency, the Housing & Development Board (HDB) designs our public housing estates. For context, more than 80% of Singapore’s resident population lives in public housing, and we work very hard to ensure that they enjoy quality living environments. Similar to what was explained in the compact city concept, our public housing towns are designed for residents to have easy access to shops, schools as well as social and recreational facilities. Recreational facilities and green spaces are within a 5-minute walk of most homes. Towns are planned with a comprehensive transport infrastructure, including cycling and pedestrian networks. HDB seeks to develop nature-centric neighbourhoods where existing natural assets are enhanced amidst the development of residential landscapes under the Biophilic Town Framework.
Singapore is aiming to become a City in Nature, where Singaporeans can have a better quality of life, while co-existing with flora and fauna.
We hope to hear your ideas and experiences on how you are doing this back home, so that all of us can learn from one another, and possibly adapt some of these solutions to our own cities.
We are living in unprecedented times. The impact of COVID-19 and climate change has forced cities to rethink how they need to be planned, so that they can be more resilient to crises and disruptions.
Though all cities are facing similar urban challenges, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. This is why we have once again convened WCS — so that cities can come together to share experiences and best practices, and we can take the solutions which may apply best to our cities back home and adapt them for local use.
I would like to thank our speakers who will be dialling in for the two sessions later today — from London, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, New York, Rotterdam, and of course from Singapore. They will be sharing their valuable insights with us. Today’s programme provides a sneak peek of the WCS, which will take place in June. So we invite you to join us even as we firm up the full programme for the conference.
Thank you very much.