World Cities Summit – July 2012, Singapore
Supertrees are lit against the sunset in Singapore. These Supertrees range from 25-50 meters in height and serve as vertical gardens at the Gardens by the Bay just next to Singapore’s busy financial district in Singapore (AP Photo / Wong Maye-E)
Urbanization and the design of cities around the world present new challenges as population density increases. The role of city leaders, urban planners, architects, and engineers face regarding urban infrastructure and communications requires the need to be both innovative and collaborative to help shape the future of cities. It’s a fast-moving trend demanding critical focus.On a global scale, Doug Saunders, author of the book Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History is Reshaping Our World, explains: “Between 2007 and 2050, the world’s cities will absorb an additional 3.1 billion people. . . . Each month there are five million new city-dwellers created through migration or birth in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Between 2000 and 2030, the urban population of Asia and Africa will double, adding as many city-dwellers in one generation as these continents have accumulated during their entire histories. By the end of 2025, 60 percent of the world will live in cities; by 2050, more than 70 percent; and by century’s end, the entire world, even the poor nations of sub-Saharan Africa, will be at least three-quarters urban.”Population density and urbanization dominated discussions around how to make cities sustainable at the World Cities Summit 2012 held in Singapore, July 1-4. Urban sustainability played a critical issue at the keynote and throughout the four-day conference plenary sessions. Under the banner Liveable and Sustainable Cities – Integrated Solutions, the World Cities Summit emphasis was on the challenges of urbanization and ways to address these challenges to foster sustainability in cities.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s opening speech on July 1 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Center coincided with three related events in Singapore held earlier in July. The integrated focus on sustainability and urban planning was shared across the third edition of the World Cities Summit, the 5th Singapore International Water Week, and the inaugural CleanEnviro Summit Singapore. At the opening ceremony for the World Cities Summit, the Prime Minister stressed that urban planning, efficient administration and public support are needed to make cities work. He also acknowledged that the world is embarking on urbanization at an unprecedented scale. Among the larger challenges that cities have are to ensure a high quality of life for city dwellers to live, work and play.
Singapore has been the host city for the biennial World Cities Summit since 2008, and this year’s summit marks the third edition attracting 15,000 delegates, world leaders, academics, business leaders and others to communicate and exchange ideas about what makes cities liveable and how to develop sustainable cities. The World Cities Summit is co-organized by the Centre for Liveable Cities and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Why Singapore? As the host city for the World Cities Summit, Singapore’s emergence as a leader for urban planning innovation offers its influence as a model sustainable city. It hasn’t always been the case, as it has been a long road getting there.
Singapore’s modern development in the past 50 years demanded a sustainable approach for urban development. The Prime Minister explained that transformation was not easy. The city-state had to overcome the reversals from the 1980s when privatized development without community comment or consultation lead to the disappearance of historical sites and landscape conservation was threatened. Further, the Singapore River fell into decline with pollution in the 1960s and it took a decade to clean it up and to restore beginning in 1978. This effort coincided with a move to transition Marina Bay as the new city center with reclaimed land and green space. Eventually, Marina Bay’s redevelopment contributed to an esteemed civic identity for Singapore as the Garden City.
The city continues to find ways for innovating its sustainable edge regarding green space, water management, housing and public transportation. The physical limits of Singapore as a city-state without a large land area demands innovating sustainable solutions from both the public and private sector. The platform of the World Cities Summit not only serves to highlight Singapore’s track record and to identify its achievements as a model of urban sustainability, but to further engage businesses and individuals to contribute towards its future development.
One of the participating projects and exhibitions featured at the World Cities Summit was this year’s UP Singapore initiative focusing on urban prototyping. Crowd-sourced data and citizen mapping was identified as a model for urban prototyping. Assembled in a presentation produced by Re:imagine Group, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts and Newton Circus, the focus behind crowd-sourcing data and citizen mapping leverages mobile communications through applications and locative media. “Data and the ability to act on it is what makes a city more intelligent: the more we know the more we can manage,” as the presentation for The Citizen, The Cloud & The Smart City explains. The role technology can offer through the presence of mobile networks can “enable government and the private sector to deploy systems that make our urban environments smarter, more efficient, and more responsive. They also create entirely new and dynamic roles for citizens.”
Examples of crowd-sourcing data are applications cited include San Francisco’s Bike Accident Tracker for cyclists to self-report road safety problems and to improve bike safety policy. Voice of Kibera, a location-based information and mapping service allowing Kiberans to share community news, report crime and to produce a free and open digital map for their impoverished district in Nairobi, Kenya. Similarly, other examples cited focus on emergency response and natural disasters. Haiti’s Open Street Map which is used to compile data from satellite imagery and crowd-sourced information from mobile phones to recreate street maps and even locate displaced people in Port-au-Prince and Carrefour. Open Street Map was developed following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti as way for individuals to help communicate information for emergency response and relief efforts. And in 2011, Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster prompted citizens to crowd-source information on radiation levels and reporting this data and geotagged information to online platforms to get a bigger picture about the spread of radiation across Japan.
At a UP Singapore event in late June in the run-up to the World Cities Summit, over 200 engineers, designers and developers worked as collaborative teams to produce applications for urban prototyping to be eligible for the Most Innovative Idea Award competition. Six teams were formed to prepare their ideas and participated in a 48-hour hackathon to develop their application. Only one would be selected to earn the cash prize of S$250,000 for further development. The different application project ideas included a platform that addresses the needs of Singapore’s aging population, a mobile app designed to help users find and reserve car garage parking spaces, a geolocation app designed to offer urban settings and locations based on users’ moods, another geolocation app for sending postcards representing data visualizations of Singapore’s mobile network data and other datasets, and a mobile app for tapping into a community complaint platform. The winning project is a mobile application designed to crowd-source climate control conditions in air-conditioned office towers. ClimateRight features a social component as well as serving as a way to gauge energy resource use in offices.
The competition represents just one example about how to be innovative with mobile technologies to address sustainability in the urban environment. On a much larger scale city leaders have long-ranging needs to address infrastructure pursuant towards what can and cannot be sustainable. The Future Cities Laboratory in Singapore offered a forum for discussion on 5 Propositions for Sustainable Future Cities at the conference. Their series of panels explored design intelligence, terrain thinking which considers the topographical context of a city, dynamic grassroots communities, abundant energy, and integrated mobility. As cities continue to rapidly develop and change, critical planning for sustainable solutions is imperative.
In recognition of cities that have endeavored to achieve urban sustainability, this year’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize was awarded to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York City’s Departments of Transportation, City Planning, and Parks and Recreation. Collectively under Mayor Bloomberg, these agencies have been recognized by the award’s jury for contributing to New York City’s renewal to improve the quality of life for its residents in the last decade since 2001. One of the significant examples of New York’s transformational enhancements towards urban sustainability is that the city has become greener with the addition of 700 acres of parks and green space that includes the new sustainable park development on the waterfront and the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Additionally, many more biking lanes have been added to surface streets.
“New York is an inspiring story of urban rejuvenation,” said Kishore Mahbubani, Chairman of the Nominating Committee for the Lee Kuan Yew City Prize. “With a big vision, strong leadership, and excellent partnership between government and citizens, there is a new sense of direction in the city,” he said. Six additional cities recognized under the Lee Kuan Yew City Prize received Special Mentions: Ahmedabad, Brisbane, Copenhagen and Malmo, Vancouver and Melbourne. Together, along with Laureates and Special Mentions from 2010, are explored further in a new publication on the Lee Kuan Yew City Prize called Cities in Transformationpublished by the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize is named for Singapore’s First Prime Minister and is awarded biennially at the World Cities Summit. New York is only the second to receive the prize since Bilbao was awarded for it in 2009. Prime Minister Lee is credited for his leadership regarding adopting policies to create Singapore as a liveable city through strategic land use including green space, improving transportation and housing, and elevating the city’s economy.