Friday, 12 June 2015

Global city leaders pay tribute to Lee Kuan Yew

By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2015

GLOBAL city leaders at the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in New York paused to remember the achievements of Singapore's late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on Tuesday.

At the suggestion of the New York government, the host of the forum, a short tribute video was played during the opening session.

The leaders, from about 70 cities around the world, then gave Mr Lee a hearty round of applause.

In the video, an abridged version of a short film produced for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, the Singaporean leader can be seen talking about the changes that needed to be made to clean up the Singapore River and turn the city-state into a clean and green city.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson then added his own tribute during his opening address. saying: "When we saw him (Mr Lee), we saw the importance of leadership."

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee, who is chairing the forum, told the gathered leaders that Singapore owed much of its success to the efforts of Mr Lee and the founding generation of leaders, stressing that their greatest contribution was ensuring their efforts would last.

"A small island merely 718 sq km in size, with no hinterland and no resources other than our people, would not have lasted 50 years had it been built only on the strength of individual personalities. Instead, our pioneers had the foresight to create lasting institutions, cultivate leadership continuity and succession, educate our young and imbue values such as integrity, meritocracy, multiracialism, a zero tolerance for corruption, and so on," he said.

Mayors on front line as cities get more dense
World Cities Summit Mayors Forum highlights challenges of urbanisation
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2015

AS MORE of the world's population move to urban areas, it will be mayors and city governments - rather than national ones - that find themselves on the front line of battles on issues such as inequality and climate change.

The changing role of mayors took centrestage on the first day of the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in New York as speakers continually stressed the responsibility that city leaders face.

During his welcome address, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told his fellow mayors that, unlike national governments, local leaders did not have the luxury of simply debating issues.

"Every day, the issues visit us upon our doorstep. Every day, the issues are present in the lives of our people and are urgent to us. And that is why it is a special honour for me to be your colleague, because that urgency represents the highest form of public service in my view. We, by definition, are the actors and the doers, and we innovate, and we create because we know we must," he said.

Mr De Blasio added: "The reality of governance is changing because the pertinence of cities is greater with every passing year, and we are, in fact, the spark of change. We are the centre, the focal point, more than ever before in history."

The mayors forum, organised jointly by Singapore's Centre for Liveable Cities and Urban Development Authority, brings together local government leaders from about 70 cities around the world. This year's meeting is only the second time the summit is being held outside of Singapore.

The growing importance of mayors was also a theme in the speeches of Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee and United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.

Mr Lee, the forum chairman, warned city leaders of the need to be flexible, given how rapidly the nature of challenges is changing, saying: "Urbanisation, globalisation and the explosion of the information age are increasingly intertwined. The confluence of these three forces has had, and will continue to have, a tremendous impact on societies around the world. As city leaders, we need to be prepared, be flexible and adaptive enough to capitalise on these forces to benefit our people."

Mr Eliasson, in turn, paid tribute to the good work being done at the city government level.

"For me sometimes, in the UN, where we deal with lofty ideas on the global level, it is very good to be reminded of things being done on the ground, in the field. I've always encouraged seeing the entrepreneurship and innovative spirit characterised by mayors around the world," he said.

Over the course of the two-day summit, mayors will share with one another the various initiatives that have worked for their cities. Singapore's planners will be making various presentations and also hoping to glean some ideas that could be implemented back home.

Mr Khoo Teng Chye, executive director of the Centre for Liveable Cities, told the Singapore media on Tuesday that what he has seen in New York could help inform some Singapore projects. He noted, for instance, the parallels between the successful New York High Line - an abandoned railway turned into a 2.3km park - and Singapore's rail corridor.

He said: "We have to be careful not to copy things precisely, but we have a rail corridor. Our rail corridor is much longer - it is 24km - and I think the High Line offers us some lessons of what we can do to learn from their very successful experience."

New ideas and new ways to run cities
Desmond Lee, chairing forum, lauds contributions, ground-breaking efforts
By Jeremy Au Yong, US Bureau Chief In Washington, The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2015

IN THE city of Ahmedabad in India, city officials have been able to tackle some of their transportation issues with a well-run bus rapid transit system, using GPS-enabled buses and dedicated lanes in the middle of the road to replicate the functions of an MRT.

In Kiev, Ukraine, the government is trying to put in place a Wi-Fi network to give Internet access to commuters across all 67.5km of its subway.

Meanwhile in Bandung, Indonesia, officials say a new command centre that includes monitoring social media for municipal problems has sped up their response times.

Innovative solutions to urban planning and municipal problems were a highlight of the World Cities Cities Summit Mayors Forum in New York that wrapped up on Wednesday. The theme of the forum was "Innovative Cities of Opportunity" and there was a clear emphasis on being able to think out of the box to try and find solutions.

But while he lauded the many ground-breaking efforts, Singapore Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee - who chaired the forum - also reminded mayors that innovative thinking did not stop at just trying to harness technology.

Speaking at the close of the summit, he said: "I am heartened to hear that there are more partnerships between city governments and academic institutions to look for new ideas, in tandem with more crowdsourcing of ground-up solutions.

"But in the hot pursuit for new ideas and suggestions, there is also value in pausing and reflecting on how existing systems can be improved or better made use of."

He told reporters later about a discussion mayors had about solving transportation issues where the need to take a step back from the problem came into focus.

During a discussion on increasing the capacity of mass rapid transit, providing cycling paths and improving walkability, the mayor of Medellin, Colombia, asked whether they should also try and make people travel less.

"He just sat there and said, can we look at it from the other angle instead? Let's think about travelling less. For instance, can people telecommute - you work from home instead of travelling to work? Can you change the peak period by shifting the working hours of companies and businesses so you attenuate the peak period crush?

"These are things that Singapore has been looking at as well so that is an affirmation of our approach to look at various angles," he said.

He added that interactions like that were part of the value of the summit to Singapore.

"In as much as Singapore profiles ourselves by sharing our experience with these cities, we are also taking the opportunity to learn from other cities because we must never stop learning from the good points and bad points from other cities."

The summit, which is jointly organised by Singapore's Centre for Livable Cities and Urban Redevelopment Authority, is being held outside Singapore for only the second time.

The New York meeting concluded with a first for the forum, as all the mayors endorsed a declaration outlining principles for building better cities. These include increasing communication between governments and the private sector as well as focusing on long-term plans.

Though the document does not set any binding targets for the leaders, Mr Lee said he hopes it will help guide the conversation on the issue at the United Nations.

He said: "The declaration will be submitted to the United Nations as part of the UN discussion on sustainable development for cities next year and we hope that Singapore can play a role, through this forum, to help shape the international agenda and discussion on sustainable cities."

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