Opening remarks by Minister Desmond Lee at the World Cities Summit Plenary I: Emerging Stronger
Aug 1, 2022
Ladies and gentlemen
Good morning. Thank you all for taking the time to join us, from all over the world, for our 8th World Cities Summit.
We had a very energetic and robust session yesterday, both for the young leaders, the mayors and of course, the many other plenary sessions.
It is a privilege for us to welcome you to Singapore, in person.
Many of you may have joined us virtually for last year’s World Cities Summit.
Back then, we were still in the thick of the pandemic.
But we made the time to come together, to learn from one another’s experiences, in the battle against COVID-19.
Last year, we talked about COVID’s wide-ranging impact – on our public health systems, our economies, and our societies, and how important it was for our community to rally together, based on a foundation of trust, to mount a concerted response – across the public, private and people sectors. We had also discussed how we could confront the immediate disruptions brought by COVID, but also how we could take a longer-term view, and rethink the ways in which we live, work, and play in our cities.
In the thick of a global pandemic – last year and the year before – I think many of us were not just grappling with the challenges we faced but also reimagining possibilities, relooking fundamentals, thinking about how we can position our societies, our communities and our world, for a better future.
This year, we hope to build on these conversations, as we continue to make our way out of this pandemic. This is reflected in the theme for this year’s Summit, “Liveable and Sustainable Cities: Emerging Stronger” – capturing the idea that, not only do we want to make it through this COVID crisis, we also want to emerge stronger, more resilient, and more prepared for the future, as a result.
As we strive to achieve this, the World Cities Summit is a valuable platform for us to exchange ideas, make friends, build connections and learn from one another.
Because while we may represent different cities and come from different cultures, we also face many similar challenges, as city leaders. These include global challenges, like climate change and geopolitical tensions; economic challenges, with rising costs of living and a potential downturn ahead; social challenges, as we try to keep our societies inclusive and cohesive, even as our people become increasingly diverse and vocal, in culture, beliefs, and socio-economic status. The development challenges that we also face as city leaders and planners – how to rejuvenate our cities without losing our sense of history, heritage, place and purpose; how to meet our development needs while taking care of nature, stewarding our natural environment, making use of nature of nature to serve community needs; how to maximise the potential of technology, while leaving no one behind in our digital transformation.
These are just some of the many issues that we can explore throughout the World Cities Summit. This year’s Summit includes sessions on topics such as Climate Change, Sustainable Financing, Smart Cities, Development and Planning, Urban Resilience, and Future Cities – where we can delve deeper into more specific discussions.
But today I would like to focus on two broad strategies that may be helpful to cities, as we confront the challenges before us – first, to harness the power of citizen participation; and second, to harness the power of innovation.
First, on citizen participation.
Cities have always attracted diverse groups of people, of different backgrounds, skills, aspirations and perspectives, and we are only becoming more diverse, as people connect to the world through the Internet and social media.
Sometimes, this diversity can lead to disagreements or tensions, which must be carefully managed but often, this diversity can also be a tremendous strength, giving us a richness of ideas and experiences to draw upon.
And as our societies’ needs evolve and our external environment becomes more complex, city leaders and governments will increasingly find that we cannot do everything ourselves. We will need to tap on the diverse talents and energies of our people, and work together to address the difficult challenges of our time.
In Singapore, for instance, we recently conducted our Long-Term Plan Review. We conduct this once every ten years, a major exercise, to chart out what our future Singapore might look like half a century from today. We plan 50 years ahead of us, and in planning for that long-term horizon, we also have intermediate markers in the form of Master Plans, to make sure that these high-level concepts get distilled into detailed plans.
In this exercise, we reached out to more than 15,000 Singaporeans, to understand their hopes and dreams for our future city – often not just for themselves, we ask them what kind of city they would want to see for their children and their grandchildren – and to get ideas from them on what we can do. The values that many of them expressed – inclusiveness, resilience, stewardship of our scarce resources, and the flexibility to adapt to future uncertainties – became some of the key principles that underpin our Long-Term Plan for our city-state.
The city of Seoul, too, directly involves its citizens in developing its masterplan. For the 2040 Seoul Plan, citizen groups discussed their values and vision for their city, which were then put to a city-wide online vote. The final statement selected, reflecting the aspirations of the residents of their city, is loosely translated into English as “Pleasant Seoul”. But I am told that the Korean term captures a much richer and deeper meaning than just “pleasant”, it vividly articulates the desire of residents to live in a refreshing, enjoyable city with a high quality of life.
So citizen participation can be a powerful force for good, if we can harness it well, and work well with diverse groups, with strong, passionate individuals. Often these groups have a single cause they are pursuing and they are very passionate about that cause; or they come together in informal networks, pushing for change. Whether we view them as adversaries or we view them as partners, makes all the difference to cohesion of the city, and most importantly, to its vibrancy and energy.
For more ideas, you can check out the “Building Community Resilience” publication, newly launched by our Centre for Liveable Cities. I hope you find it useful. It documents how city leaders can work with citizens to develop a comprehensive strategy for resilience, in the face of challenges like climate change.
Besides citizen participation, the second strategy I would like to touch on is the power of innovation.
As new challenges come our way, we will need new and creative solutions to address them. Often, it is the stress of a difficult situation that provokes an innovative response, and in many cases, technology can be an important enabler.
For example, creative solutions emerged in many cities, during the pandemic. Often borne out of necessity, often the brainchild of that spark from some groups, agencies or individuals who seize on an idea and say, maybe this can work.
In the city of Amman, digital “reachability maps” were created, to highlight the gaps where essential goods and services, like food and healthcare, could not reach certain groups. These reachability maps helped to improve emergency response efforts, and to prioritise where investments in infrastructure were most needed. Now, I understand the city is going further to launch an interactive platform, which enables citizens to proactively update where help is required.
In the city of Rotterdam, when public budgets came under stress and could not provide much financial aid, “RIKX”, a digital marketplace, was created to connect social entrepreneurs to investors. The social entrepreneurs develop projects to help vulnerable members of the society secure a job. RIKX values the social impact of these projects, and the private-sector partners that invest in the projects can then monetise this social impact, using digital tokens.
Here in Singapore, we too embrace innovation, to overcome our resource constraints and pursue sustainable development.
For example, we have the Cities of Tomorrow Research and Development (R&D) programme. It is a major effort, spanning projects across our research institutes and Institutions of Higher Learning.
The programme identifies key urban challenges, and develops R&D solutions to support resilient, sustainable, and liveable cities. We have seen good progress, and I am pleased to announce that we will set aside another $66 million over the next 5 years for this R&D programme. This will support, amongst other research areas, the development of solutions that can help upgrade our ageing infrastructure, and create more space in our city for our needs. We will also develop solutions that use the latest technology, like data analytics and AI, to enable more effective urban planning that can cope with more complexity.
Through more R&D collaborations among the Government, the research community, and the private sector, we hope that the cross-pollination of ideas will strengthen our innovation eco-system for our urban Built Environment, and help our city to better address our emerging challenges ahead.
To conclude, citizen participation and technological innovation are two important tools that we as city leaders can tap on, as we endeavour to emerge from the COVID crisis even stronger than before. To be more resilient, to adapt to and manage the crises that may come in future.
Though there are still challenges that lie ahead, we can learn a lot from one another. We can work together, across cities, to improve our citizens’ lives, and make our cities even more liveable and sustainable for our people and our future generations.
The World Cities Summit is a useful platform for us to do this – to share our experiences and best practices, and to explore new opportunities for partnership.
I look forward to learning from our panellists, and learning from all of you. I wish you all a fruitful World Cities Summit. Thank you.