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Rethinking Global Cities in a New Era

18 November 2021 (Thursday), 4:00pm - 5:30pm (Singapore time: GMT+8)


  • Sandiago Uno (Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, Indonesia)
  • Andy Burnham (Mayor, Greater Manchester)
  • Arnaud Ngatcha (Deputy Mayor in charge of International Affairs and the Francophonie, Paris)
  • Jeremy Bentham (Vice-President, Global Business Environment, Shell)


  • Prof Greg Clark (Senior Advisor, Future Cities & New Industries, HSBC Group)

Closing Remarks:

  • Hugh Lim (Executive Director, Centre for Liveable Cities)

Global Cities Need Equity, Climate Action, and Focus on Citizens

“We need to make sure that the drive to net zero is a drive to reduce inequality in cities,” Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham urged. In the wake of COVID-19 and following COP26, how can we understand and revise global cities, to help them emerge stronger? Global city leaders gathered to share their wisdom on combatting rising inequalities, collaborating urgently for climate action, and collectively re-imagining daily life as reshaped by the pandemic.

Session Takeaways:

Cities need to face rising inequalities

“By 2080, 10 billion people will live in roughly 10,000 cities,” Professor Greg Clark shared, adding that while global cities create jobs, disparities in income often create cities that are less equal. This

Mr Jeremy Bentham from Shell Solutions reminded that “people once celebrated as key workers in the pandemic find themselves still in underpaid, under-appreciated jobs.” Mayor Burnham underlined that the vulnerabilities of the low-income should concern everyone: “Inequality mattered before the pandemic, but I think the pandemic has brought home why it really matters. It’s clearly difficult for people in the position where they don't have secure employment, to protect their own health. But that also affects the health of everybody else.”

So what can cities do? Chairman Li Wei of the China Development Research Foundation urged cities to concentrate their resources on providing comprehensive public service systems, so that lower- and middle-income groups can enjoy and share in the development of the city. Mayor Burnham highlighted digitalization as one of these public systems, sharing Manchester’s vision for a true digital city which grants connectivity to all citizens. “We almost have to look at digital connectivity now as an essentiality, like water and energy. This is critical for people’s lives, for opportunity, social connection, and combatting loneliness amongst older people.”

Cities need to take collaborative climate action

Inequalities could be alleviated through climate action, Mayor Burnham proposed, citing that if cities go faster towards carbon neutrality, homes and public transport could be made more affordable through efficient energy systems. Mr Arnaud Ngatcha, Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of International Affairs and the Francophonie, similarly shared that “Everything points to the necessity to go faster.” He expressed that despite some progress at COP26, outcomes are not meeting expectations, highlighting that the latest IPCC report shows that climate disasters will become more frequent and our populations are in danger.

Mr Li underlined that “cities are the main battlefield for sustainable development,” because they have the Research & Development, innovation capabilities, and policy tools which equip them to act. “Global cities are not silos,” he added, “Collaboration is larger than competition. Cities will compete for resources, but this competition should be a benign competition rather than a zero-sum game. We need to increase collaboration.” Mr Ngatcha agreed: “Cities are strong when they learn from each other and ensure good practices.” He also cited examples of Paris’ actions towards a green recovery, such as the construction of hundreds of new bicycle links, planting of 170,000 trees, and refurbishing of 5000 housing units to reduce poverty and improve access to cleaner heating solutions.

Pak Sandiaga Uno, Minister of Tourism and Creative Economy, Indonesia, shared that global cities also need to prepare for the new era of sustainability. “Tourists in the post-pandemic era will have much higher expectations, in terms of cleanliness, health, safety, and environmental sustainability. A lot of young millennials who travel to Bali want to engage in tourism activities that offset the carbon that they used to get to Bali.” He noted that tourist destinations will need to accommodate rising green demands from the public, and prioritize the well-being of their tourists and citizens.

Cities need to reimagine daily life with their citizens

While global cities have been shaken by the pandemic, Mayor Burnham expressed that “we’ve seen a very strong return to the city” as the world recovers. However, even as cities are here to stay, they do need to be reimagined in the wake of such a large disruption. He noted that the average work week now looks different given the mix of remote and in-person work, thus necessitating a rethinking of space. For instance, old retail spaces in outskirt towns could be turned into coworking spaces for residents.

To rethink global cities, we need to encourage cross-sector collaboration and engage with citizens. “Paris, like other local authorities, emphasizes the role of citizens in international action,” Mr Ngatcha shared. “COVID-19 highlights the need to work with local actors, to achieve a common benefit for local authorities, the international public, and private partners.” Mayor Burnham praised Paris’ citizen-centric rethinking of their allocation of space, citing the example of a large road close to the Seine that was completely closed and turned into a very popular pedestrian space. “But those moves are difficult,” he added. “And it has to be done with people, not just imposed.” Pak Sandiaga Uno similarly shared that product and service innovations in tourism also need to cater to citizens’ demands through an approach that is “localized, personalized, customized”.

Cities need to keep learning to continue thriving

Mr Bentham highlights that throughout the process of reimagining cities and spaces, “learning lessons is a key driver of better outcomes.” He reminds us that we learn from how international medical communities have collaborated and competed during COVID-19, we learn from investing to reduce social inequality, and we learn from imagining the future through alternative scenarios. He posited that global cities would need to learn and develop new infrastructures moving forward.

Mr Hugh Lim, Executive Director of the Centre for Liveable Cities, closed the session by sharing some of the lessons we have learned through the discussions of World Cities Summit 2021: “Cities will need to adopt new frameworks centered on sustainability and resilience, be flexible and adaptable, take a multi-disciplinary approach, and put people first, if we are to continue thriving.”

Session Recording: