Home > Speeches > Closing Address by Minister Desmond Lee at the 12th World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in Seoul, South Korea

Closing Address by Minister Desmond Lee at the 12th World Cities Summit Mayors Forum in Seoul, South Korea

Closing Address By Mr Desmond Lee, Minister For National Development And Minister-in-charge Of Social Service Integration At World Cities Summit Mayors Forum On 26 Sep 2023, In Seoul, South Korea

Vice Mayor Cheol Won Kang
Ladies and gentlemen

  1. It has been an engaging two days at this year’s World Cities Summit Mayors Forum.

  1. I would like to thank all of you – presenting cities and organisations, our two moderators, the WCS Young Leaders, and all participants – for actively participating and contributing to the Forum.

  1. A special note of thanks goes to our friends from the Seoul Metropolitan Government, who worked diligently behind the scenes to organise this year’s programme. We deeply appreciate your excellent arrangements and warm hospitality.

  1. As we round up this year’s Mayors Forum, allow me to briefly reflect on some key takeaways and I can do no better than what Greg and Aaron summarised, ten points of the richness of discussion running through the last few days.

Recap of ideas and initiatives shared during Mayors Forum

  1. We discussed a wide range of topics over the past two days - inclusivity, the importance of heritage conservation, accelerating de-carbonisation and strengthening climate resilience; as well as promoting innovation and creativity.

  1. Many mayors and city leaders shared about the creative programmes that they have implemented to empower the community to make your cities more liveable.
    1. [Example] For example, Deputy Mayor Hamidreza from Tehran shared about the innovative “I am the mayor” plan, where citizens were asked on how the municipal budget should be allocated and which municipal projects should be prioritized. Many other city leaders such as Deputy Mayor Ristani of Tirana, echoed the transformative effect that participatory budgets can have.
    1. [Example] Special Commissioner Agirrezabal from Bilbao shared that the city of Bilbao has set up centres where residents can get treatments for depression and anxiety caused by social isolation. This helps to remove the stigma behind mental health and empower the community to seek help.

  1. Many Mayors also shared how they’ve identified vulnerable groups and ensured that policies are targeted in helping to level the playing field.
    1. [Example] For example, Mayor Desmond Choo shared about Comlink, how the proactive, data-driven, and coordinated approach helps to integrate support across agencies and charities by putting low income families at the heart of what they do.
    1. [Example] Another innovative initiative was the Seoul Learn project introduced by Mayor Oh Se-hoon. This project helps to improve equal access to educational opportunities by ensuring that vulnerable youths have access to high quality education materials through a shared online platform.

  1. We’ve also heard about the different strategies that cities from different continents around the world have taken to conserve and even inject new lease of life into their cultural heritage, such as Gaborone, Sao Paolo, and Budapest.

  1. There were also many innovative ideas on how cities can tackle climate change and its downstream effects.
    1. [Example] Many cities have shared about how local governments have taken the lead in adopting new technology such as the use of green hydrogen in Vienna’s district heating and cooling efforts, as well as green energy from innovative sources such as the floating panels in Singapore.

Call to action to try innovative new policies and to collaborate with each other

  1. We also heard city leaders from Seoul and Tallinn speak about the importance of retrofitting old buildings to bring them up to speed on green building technology. We heard about Makassar, Dhaka South, Tallinn, and Antwerp talk about greening of waterways, cities and green spaces. I think all of us remember the Pollinator Highway in Tallinn and Big Link in Antwerp.

  1. Many of you also spoke about the need to go beyond individual projects, to go central, to go district, to go regional – for example, in Vienna – as well as the Young Leaders who shared about how cities can collaborate through waste management and recycling. You also heard from Maputo about how industries can be made green through deliberate planning of industrial parks and deployment of EVs.

  1. We heard about climate actions, we also heard about how Mayors incorporate innovation and creativity to make the lives of citizens better and to help enterprises flourish. We heard about the open-source data-driven approach taken by Taipei City Dashboard, we heard about construction productivity in Singapore, we heard about the whole range of start-up incubators and launchpad service in Singapore, and Brunei’s iCentre. We heard about the support in Danang for SMEs as well as the innovation efforts to support startups in Sebarang Perai in Penang. In Antwerp, we saw how rainwater harvesting helps cities clean trucks and do their work while being more sustainable.

  1. The use of innovation and knowledge can also help cities differentiate and level up on their competitive advantages. For example, the ambition of Vienna to be city of knowledge, not just in Europe, but also of the world, and how through apprenticeships that are very established in the German-speaking world had enabled a workforce of the future.

  1. We also heard a heed of warning from Prof Lam Khee Poh from NUS, telling us that time is non-renewable – a very important point – and about innovation and technology. The young leaders also suggested more open engagements that can bring the private sector, social sector and people sector together to bring creativity and innovation into today’s plans and designs that run our cities, while Isabel from the IFC shared very much about the benefits of technologies in cities. For example, InfraTech – how it leads services for model cities, how it reduces OPEX and CAPEX costs, and how it can bring climate and social impacts to bear positive gains to our cities.

  1. I have not done justice in this very brief summary of all the discussions that have been made during the course of these two days. But, I think the important point is that while we have had very good sharing and discussion, the work of the Mayors Forum must not stop here. I hope that the discussions have inspired you to bring back some of these ideas to your own cities where you can study them, adapt them to your own local context and try them out.

  1. After all, cities wherever we are in the world, share many of the same challenges, from the consequential effects of the pandemic, to other serious concerns like the climate crisis and disruptions brought about by digitalisation and AI. A solution that has worked in one city may have a good chance of success in another city, too. My advice is to learn what makes those projects succeed and adapt them to our local context.

  1. If you were particularly interested in any of the shared initiatives, I hope that you have followed up with the speaker. In fact, one of the key objectives of the Mayors Forum is to build long-lasting networks and trust between different cities and city leaders, between city leaders and the young people and between city leaders and our enterprises, and for the learning and sharing of best practices to extend well beyond these two days. For example, you can organise cross-exchange trips to other cities to get a more in-depth look at how certain policies have been implemented.

  1. In the upcoming editions of the World Cities Summit Mayors Forum, we look forward to hearing more about how mayors and city leaders have taken ideas shared in the Forum discussions as models to learn from and possibly even implement in their home city.


  1. As leaders and city representatives, we are well-positioned to galvanise stakeholders across people, public and private spheres of influence, to think long-term and implement innovative policies. I hope that the Mayors Forum has been helpful to all of you and it was useful to see policies put into practice right here in Seoul.

  1. On that note, I invite all of you to next year’s Mayors Forum and the World Cities Summit 2024 in Singapore from 2 to 4 June, and of course, the 2025 WCS Mayors Forum to be hosted in Vienna, Austria our 2020 Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureate, where we will take this conversation forward.

  1. We look forward to seeing you all again. Thank you very much and I wish all of you a safe journey back home. May we meet again next year.