Editoral World Cities Summit Issue

Date Posted

1 Jun 2008


World Cities Summit Issue, 14 Jun 2008

The story of how cities evolve and transform continues to captivate and inspire. While we marvel at the strength and power of cities in shaping the world economy and influencing societies, we also wonder what the next generation of cities will look like. The key challenge for policymakers and those who govern cities is how to enable sustainable renewal and re-invention so that these cities remain as unique urban centres, resplendent in wealth, culture and creativity, while functioning as attractive and practical homes for an increasingly diverse and well-travelled community.

In conjunction with the inaugural World Cities Summit 2008: Liveable and Vibrant Cities, this special issue of Ethos features thoughts and ideas from experts who have been involved in the development of cities. One of the determinants of success for any great city is how well it prepares for the next generation. In an interview with Harvard University's Professor Alan Altshuler, he reaffirms that the age of the city is far from being over. He outlines seven factors that make a successful city. More than just physical infrastructure, a city's success and longevity are also dependent on intangibles such as security, equity and democracy. Professor Altshuler also compares Singapore's development with that of the United States and discusses some of the urban innovations in both countries. Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner from the Brookings Institution look at how a new class of urban interventions in the United States, which they term as transformative investments, is helping to change downtowns, neighbourhoods, corridors, parks and open spaces, and waterfronts. These investments are making a significant impact on markets, people, city landscapes, and spinning off other urban possibilities.

Even as American cities seek to re-invent themselves, cities in Asia continue to grow exponentially. Statistics show that Asian cities would have to accommodate an additional 44 million people every year. Some of the key factors that can effectively enhance and transform Asian cities are good urban governance, participatory decision-making processes, effective urban management, and environmental consciousness. Dr Bindu Lohani of the Asian Development Bank cites United Nations' estimates that by 2010, 14 of the world's 25 megacities will be in Asia and most will be in the developing countries of Asia. One of the challenges for these rapidly developing Asian cities is to ensure that the city infrastructure keep up with the economic and population growth in cities. Similarly, Dr Richard Leete, former Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam, describes the urban population growth of cities in Southeast Asia and urges those in urban governance to have planning horizons that extend beyond current needs, in anticipation of expected change.

With a relatively young history as a nation, Singapore has its own unique challenges in city-making. For an insight into its urban development, chief executive officers of five Singapore public sector agencies share their policy challenges and experience. Cheong Koon Hean of the Urban Redevelopment Authority explains the policy decisions and trade-offs in the city's planning and development. The balance between central planning and organic growth, or between redevelopment and conservation, should ultimately serve Singapore's development for the next 40 to 50 years. The city's physical limitations require different ways of thinking and planning. Discussions on the city's key infrastructural developments such as housing and land transport policies are helmed by Tay Kim Poh of the Housing & Development Board and Yam Ah Mee of the Land Transport Authority. Mr Tay recounts why and how the strategies of upgrading and redevelopment are used in the rejuvenation of housing estates in Singapore, while Mr Yam highlights some of the key strategic thrusts that shape the city's land transport development and policies, where land transport has a social role in meeting the diverse needs of people who live in the city.

At the same time, environmental sustainability of the city is critical. Lee Yuen Hee from the National Environment Agency proposes that a city's economic development does not have to mean generating more waste. He describes some of the strategies that the Agency has taken to reduce waste volume, recycle, and minimise waste. Besides, environmental consciousness has substantial soft power-greenery as an urban strategy can transform an entire city and help shape a city's identity. Ng Lang of the National Parks Board reflects on Singapore's green policy experience by reminding us that a city's greenery plan, through the conservation of the natural heritage and biodiversity, is one of the ways to develop the soul and character of a city. The same philosophy on the importance of the environment is echoed by Professor Dodo J. Thampapillai from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, who advocates that environmental economics should play a key role in public governance as well as the training and education of policymakers so that they can make substantial contributions to the development of urban policies of cities.

A city that is energetic, inspiring and vibrant also has an equally gregarious and enthusiastic community-one that comprises people from a variety of nationalities and diverse backgrounds. London School of Economics' Philippe Legrain reminds us that the richness of cities derives not just from their locations but also from the interaction of their diverse populations. Cities are appealing for many because of the sense of future and opportunity that they present. He believes that migration into cities is a source of new ideas and innovation which ultimately contributes to the city's economy. Furthermore, diversity begets cultural variety which adds to a city's vibrancy. Professor Bruno Frey of the University of Zurich explores the relationship between cities, culture and happiness, and the implications for policy. Research has shown that people who are active consumers of the arts are those who are more satisfied with their lives and how they spend their leisure time.

We are grateful to all our contributors who have devoted time and effort to share their research, insights and ideas with us. They have shown that we remain at the tip of the iceberg in our understanding and discoveries about city-making. The next chapter in the history of cities will demand just as much grit and imagination, and how the narrative will unfold is very much in our hands.

We hope that you will enjoy this special issue.

June Gwee

Special Edition Editor

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