Vision, participation and technology are less important than having a joined-up approach to city government, Peter Ho, Chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore, told the World Cities Summit yesterday.
“What makes a good city is not just about having a good vision, public participation, technical competencies, or even the adoption of smart technologies. These are all important, but they are second order requirements that can only be built on a foundation of good governance,” Ho told the conference of global city leaders and officials.
“By good governance, I mean the whole-of-government approach to planning and development that acknowledges the complexity of urban environment and the uncertainty of the future,” Ho added. “It should be an integrative solution based on the understanding of the entire urban system and the inter-related dimensions.”
The former Head of Singapore’s Civil Service said that there are three main challenges that cities need to focus on in order to achieve economic, social and physical resilience.
“Cities have to achieve economic resilience in a globalised economy in which competition is fierce,” he said, and against a backdrop where the growth of advanced economies is tapering off while emerging economies experience rapid economic development. The average GDP of emerging nations’ economies was 8.6 per cent, he noted, against 1.4 per cent in G7 economies.
Technology is also disrupting the standing of major cities, Ho added: “Technological changes such as big data analytics and the digital economy can fundamentally change a city’s destiny, by creating a big challenge or opportunity.” These disruptions can lead to the hollowing out of middle-skill jobs and change the nature of work, he warned.
Social challenges are arising because of the changing nature of work, Ho said, and a radical change of preparing individuals for more than one job in their active working life is needed in cities’ education systems. “Instead of preparing individuals for one job, they should be trained and retrained for several completely different jobs in their lives.”
Inequality is also a problem, especially as wages for middle income groups stagnate, he said.
Ho gave the example of Suzhou city in China, that can provide inspiring insights on how such challenges can be addressed. “Suzhou’s journey includes inclusionary social policies and cultural conservation. Its migrant workers have equal access to health and education benefits.”
“We need to future-proof cities’ physical infrastructure to be resilient against the impact of climate change and unanticipated events such as security threats and epidemics,” he highlighted. “Smart cities that leverage new technology and big data to upgrade infrastructure and improve service delivery will be better equipped to tackle these challenges.”
New York City is a good example, Ho continued: “First responders run exercises on large-scale emergencies in real-world settings without affecting citizens’ daily lives using simulation technology. Citizens have access to mobile apps that allow them to determine safe zones in case of hurricanes.”