Home > Speeches > Opening Address by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth And Ministry of Trade and Industry At the World Cities Summit 2024 Young Leaders Symposium, Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre on 2 June 2024

Opening Address by Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth And Ministry of Trade and Industry At the World Cities Summit 2024 Young Leaders Symposium, Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre on 2 June 2024

  1. Good morning to all of you! Good morning Ms Danela Arsovka (Mayor of Skopje) and Mr Daniel Sazonov (Deputy Mayor of Helsinki), Excellencies, and most importantly, all the young people here.

  2. The 129 of you are here on a Sunday morning, and we hope not to disappoint. We hope to make sure you have space to share with us your visions, your dreams, and your plans for how you want to build your cities.

  3. Welcome to the Young Leaders Symposium. I think it’s remarkable that we kick off the ninth edition of the World Cities Summit with our young people, and we ought to, because we’re going to hand over the cities to you. This is an opportunity not just for us to speak and to make friends, but also for us to learn from one another and share our experiences.

  4. Allow me to explore three questions:
    1. First, why are cities important?
    2. Second, what is a city state like Singapore doing to build a resilient city?
    3. Third, how can our youths reimagine, rejuvenate and reinvent cities for the future?


  5. Let’s start by asking: “Why are cities important?”

  6. Cities are the present, cities are the future. Let’s break down the numbers:
    1. The percentage of the world population living in urban areas like cities has grown from 39% in 1980 to 57% in recent years. People are moving from rural areas to the cities.
    2. Two out of every three people will live in cities in 25 years’ time.
    3. For those of you who live in Asia and Africa, 90% of the world’s urban population growth will happen in these areas .

  7. People are moving from rural areas to cities, and a bulk of that immigration will happen in the Global South, in Asia as well as Africa. Africa is going to be the most populous continent in the world at 1.5 billion, surpassing China, at 1.4 billion, and also surpassing India.

  8. Beyond the numbers, the most important ingredient for cities is the people. People are at the heart of our cities, and our mission to you is to build cities where people can thrive; where people can connect regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs, their race, customs or experiences – where we can build not just for the future, but also to deal with current crises.


  10. Last night – and I hope many of you will try this in June – myself and many others were dragon-boating in Marina Bay. As I was in Marina Bay, I was thinking that this was quite a stunning sight. But I also remembered that we have such a small city - 750 sq km - that it only takes us about 45 minutes to drive from the east coast of our city to the west coast.

  11. Therefore, how we design our city matters. Every square kilometre matters, and every person matters.

  12. Let’s think about how we design our city from three different approaches: Community, Climate, and Crises.

  13. Community

  14. Pew Research ranked Singapore as the most religiously diverse country in the world. With so many different faiths and religions, how then do we find space for our different faith groups to live together, practise and observe our faiths?

  15. As a youth, I started my volunteer journey not too far away from here, at South Bridge Road (in the Tanjong Pagar area). For our guests – Tanjong Pagar was effectively where modern Singapore was born. Our founding Prime Minister started as a lawyer advocating for port workers in Tanjong Pagar. But there’s a particular characteristic of Tanjong Pagar that’s very unique. If you go down South Bridge Road, you would see just on one road – Fairfield Methodist Church, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple - a Hindu temple, and then Masjid Chulia, which is a mosque.

  16. Many years ago, when I was working in a tech company, I brought together some youths from a neighbouring country. When we took them to South Bridge Road, some of them said, “Okay, since we’re going from a Hindu temple to a mosque, we have to get on the bus.” But I told them, “You don’t need to get on the bus, you can just walk; it’s just next door.” And the youths, who came from a country that faced many racial and religious tensions, remarked that this was not quite possible in their city. Also, their city was way bigger than the 750 sq km of Singapore. This proximity between the religious places, is unusual in most partsof the world. But in Singapore, it fosters a culture of mutual respect and understanding.

  17. Let’s now travel to the north of Singapore, to the heartlands where Eunoia Junior College (EJC) is located. It is located alongside a community park called Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, and houses a community centre. This allows residents in the area to interact with students and use the schools’ facilities. In the absence of space, we try to co-locate in modern buildings – schools, community centres, and places for people to enjoy.

  18. I recently visited EJC, where youths held a Racial and Religious Harmony Frisbee contest. It was really fun, with the youths and former youths just enjoying that space on the Junior College grounds.

  19. In Singapore you’ll see a lot of areas where we are building community-centric towns with common spaces and facilities, just like Eunoia Junior College.

  20. For example, children of different backgrounds play together in the same playgrounds and go to the same schools within the estate, while seniors hang out with one another in our neighbourhoods and community gardens. Such community-centric towns allow all community groups can interact with one another, across ages and faiths.

  21. And also, having such spaces and facilities for communities can have the knock-on effect of promoting health and wellbeing!

  22. There is a Netflix Series “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones” that featured Singapore as a “Blue Zone”, where people live longer and enjoy better health well into their old age. The series attributed this to our infrastructure and programmes that nudge our people towards healthier behaviour.

  23. Over the years, we have introduced programmes for people to have a sense of shared ownership over public spaces.

  24. I’ll share a little bit about one of the projects that we have in our neighbourhood, for which we partner with the Centre for Liveable Cities. Alister Ong, who’s here today, helps us out in my local constituency in Cambridge Road. Cambridge Road is a low-lying, flood prone area, so in the past it would often flood. And so, the community came together and worked with the Centre for Liveable Cities to plan it such that there is more greenery and more flood prevention measures to prevent the area from flooding.

  25. The Centre for Liveable Cities also worked with residents and the National Parks Board to decide what kind of trees to plant to drain water from the flood zone.

  26. Now we move from the Communities, to Climate.

  27. Climate

  28. As an island city, Singapore is vulnerable to rising sea levels. That’s why we’re using tech and infrastructure to protect ourselves.
    1. We built Marina Barrage in 2008. It’s a dam across the mouth of the Marina Channel to create a freshwater reservoir, to help us manage our water more effectively.
    2. It is also a flood control mechanism. With rising sea levels and increased rainfall, the Barrage helps alleviate flooding in low-lying city areas – like Cambridge Road and Chinatown – and can release excess stormwater into the sea during high tide.
    3. It is powered by solar energy, showing how urban infrastructure can incorporate renewable energy solutions to reduce carbon emissions.
    4. We are building another coastal defence tool – a land reclamation project, called ‘Long Island’, off the East Coast.
    5. Long Island will provide coastal protection, flood resilience, water supply, extra land for development, and recreational spaces. The land will be higher to protect against sea level rises.
    6. Existing drains will flow into a new reservoir with tidal gates and pumps, similar to Marina Barrage, to manage seawater and stormwater. This will enhance Singapore's water resilience.


  29. Cities can also better organise ourselves to respond to crises.

  30. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Housing & Development Board converted older flats and built temporary accommodation, when we needed quarantine and vaccination facilities.

  31. Government agencies, even those not usually involved in housing matters, also stepped up and converted many of their accommodation spaces into emergency accommodation. We converted community centres and void decks of public housing into vaccination centres.

  32. As a city, when you are hit by crises, how do you quickly shift and make decisions to deal with these crises?

  33. Just recently we had a small wave of COVID-19 outbreaks, and in my constituency, what we did on the ground was quickly convert a place to conduct vaccinations, particularly for the seniors who are more vulnerable.

  34. As a result of swift work, we have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic with one of the lowest death rates in the world.


  35. We’ve discussed why cities are important, and how you can build a resilient city. But the most important part is, what can you, as youths, do to contribute to this?

  36. During the COVID-19 crisis, many of our youths stepped up. I know many of you here – you partnered me and our Government to distribute masks, look after our seniors and bring them to vaccination centres. After that, you went to visit them to make sure that they were okay and had support.

  37. You helped us when there were racial and religious tensions with our Harmony Circles. You helped us when we needed to plan for our SG Green Plan, and many of you here are also involved in sustainability initiatives. You also helped build the city during different crises.

  38. And so, at this platform, the Young Leaders Symposium, we want to hear from you and we want to hear how you can work together with us to build a resilient and sustainable city.

  39. Thank you very much.