The World Cities Summit (WCS), held biennially in Singapore in conjunction with Singapore International Water Week (SIWW) and the CleanEnviro Summit Singapore (CESS), is an opportunity for city leaders from around the world to gather and discuss the key challenges facing their cities. This year’s event was no exception. Twenty thousand visitors from over 100 nations gathered to discuss the challenges of developing sustainable and innovative solutions to address constrained urban ecosystems, water shortages, and environmental resilience. In the first of a two-part round up of the key themes from this year’s WCS we discuss the need for cities to put sustainability at the heart of smart city projects.
Embracing Disruptive Digital Transformations for Citizens, Business and City Services
The question of how to manage innovation and the adoption of digital technologies while countering the disruption such investments can bring to city systems is central to successfully developing sustainable city services. This message was at the heart of the opening speech by Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s minister for the Ministry of National Development on day one at the Mayors Forum. Wong emphasized this year’s theme of “Embracing the Future through Innovation and Collaboration” and argued that, for cities, the term ‘Smart Cities’ should no longer just be associated with IT but should be thought of as an all-rounded solution towards addressing urban development challenges.
There is a growing need for greater collaboration amongst cities. The trends that are driving cities to invest in smart city programs cannot be addressed at the micro level, they require a systematic, coordinated approach. Wong referenced the inaugural meeting of the ASEAN Smart City Network (ASCN), comprising of 26 cities from 10 ASEAN states. The network aims to help facilitate the pooling of resources to address common issues facing cities in the region.
Disruption to cities from digital technology is only accelerating
The concept of ‘Smart Cities’ and the application of digital technologies continued to be the dominating theme of the rest of the days presentations. Distinguished speakers, such as Chief Minister Shri Nara Chandrababu Naidu, Andhra Pradesh and Low Yen Ling, Chairman, Mayors’ Committee, Singapore, delved into how cities can deliver sustainable environments by harnessing technology innovations and collaborations, as well as key considerations around building and financing infrastructures in the long-term, all empowered through the adoption of technology.
Attendees also heard from speakers such as Dr. Vallop Suwandee, Chairman of Advisers to Governor, Bangkok; Lucy Turnbull, Chief Commissioner, Greater Sydney Commission; Shan Zefeng, Director-General, Eco-city Administrative Committee, Tianjin; and Nguyen Van Suu, Permanent Vice Chairman, Hanoi, on why cities should continually analyze the impact of rapid advances in technology and look to create outcome-based metrics and goals for their smart city investments. Mayors also talked about the need to embrace new technology, while supporting enterprises that are developing solutions to support smart city strategies.
While getting the technology right is a key part of delivering a successful smart city project, getting the funding model right is key to sustaining smart city projects beyond the pilot stage. Delegates heard from Her Excellency Maimunah Mohd Sarif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, who noted that in Asia alone, the cost of urban infrastructure investments is estimated at around US$100 billion a year. To help fund this investment, the range of financing models being used by cities is increasing. Stephanie von Friedeburg, Chief Operating Officer, International Finance Corporation, stated that, “the private sector can provide innovative ways for cities to finance their growing infrastructure needs. Green bonds, Private-Public Partnerships, and Land Value Capture are examples of key financing vehicles”.
This was very much the theme for the session of “No Investment, No Cities. While much focus was given to the perennial topic of how cities can attract and sustain Foreign Direct Investment (FDIs), there is growing acknowledgement that the ability of cities to attract workers with the right skills and talents also needs a stronger focus if cities want to develop sustainable ecosystems to support their ‘smart city’ objectives.
Just getting smart city projects to pilot stage takes considerable effort and investment. Smart city projects are not just about technology refresh, they are at their very heart about transforming the way municipalities create a livable environment for citizens and businesses. By putting Sustainability at the center of projects, cities are more likely to be able to sustain projects past pilot stage.
Mr. Wang was previously a civil servant for the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA and now, Government Technology Agency of Singapore [GovTech]), in which he functioned as an IT innovation program lead and a strategy consultant. Gerald had a dual role with IDA International too, where he spent extended periods overseas as an on-site expert delivering national technology master-planning consultancies, as well as ICT infrastructure review and benchmarking advisories to foreign governments.
To date, he has delivered a myriad of public sector transformation advisories and managed programs, both locally and globally, in smart cities, transportation, public safety, critical infrastructures, social welfare, healthcare, education, and economic internationalization verticals. Other prior experiences include being a senior editor for FutureGov Magazine, a Pan-Asian government business news publication, as well as a start-up partner for a local small and medium-sized enterprise (SME).