Home > Speeches > Remarks by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister At World Cities Summit Opening Plenary, 3 June 2024

Remarks by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister At World Cities Summit Opening Plenary, 3 June 2024

Ministers and Mayors,


Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. A very good morning. I am delighted to join you at this Opening Plenary of the 9th World Cities Summit.

    1. We held the inaugural World Cities Summit in 2008.

      1. Since then, it has grown into a global platform for city leaders, industry experts and other partners to exchange ideas and foster partnerships.

    2. This year, we are joined by friends from more than 90 cities around the world to exchange views on the future of urbanisation.

      1. Let me join Minister Desmond Lee in extending a very warm welcome to all of you to Singapore, especially those of you who are joining us for the first time.

    3. This diverse group gathered here, from across continents, underscores the important role that cities play in shaping a better, greener and healthier future.

      1. So I encourage all of you to make the most of the next 2 days to engage in meaningful discussions with one another.

  2. Since the turn of the century, the trend of urbanisation has accelerated globally.

    1. More than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities.

      1. This is projected to grow further to almost 70% by 2050.

    2. Not only will we have more cities in the years ahead, our cities are also becoming bigger and more complex.

      1. In the year 2000, 371 cities around the world had at least 1 million inhabitants.

      2. By 2030, this number is projected to exceed 700. In other words, almost doubling in just 3 decades.

      3. When I grew up in Singapore in the 1960s and 1970s, our population was roughly around 2 million and our GDP per capita was approximately US$500.

      4. Today, our population stands at around 6 million with a GDP per capita of over US$80,000.

  3. Many cities around the world have had similar experiences – of economies growing more vibrant, populations becoming larger and more cosmopolitan, and standards of living rising.

    1. This speaks to both the advantages and challenges of cities.

    2. Advantages – because cities have historically been enablers of economic and cultural development.

      1. For centuries, people have been drawn to cities for greater economic and social opportunities, and ultimately better lives and livelihoods – for themselves, their families, and future generations.

      2. Cities have attracted talent, catalysed technological change, and driven higher productivity levels and growth. Cities enjoy what economists call “the economics of agglomeration”, where a critical mass of talent, ideas and capital make connections and enable growth and innovation.

      3. But at the same time, cities have challenges too — crime, congestion, overpopulation, pollution, homelessness, and even the loss of a sense of connection.

    3. So cities must continually evolve with the times to keep empowering human aspiration and to uplift their people.

      1. Cities need good hard infrastructure – buildings, roads, ports and airports to enhance connectivity and convenience.

      2. And equally, cities need soft infrastructure – for people to form social connections, and build a sense of community and identity.

      3. Both these dimensions are vital in keeping cities buzzing, dynamic and cohesive.

  4. Singapore is both a city and a country. As a city, we face the same constraints and challenges that all cities around the world face. As a country, we also need to provide for a wide range of national needs, including in defence and in water resources.

    1. So how can we pursue growth, so that it is environmentally sustainable and socially equitable?

    2. And as our people age and as aspirations change, how can we support our people and our seniors to not only live longer, but to lead more healthy and fulfilling lives whatever their age?

    3. These are some of the key questions that make the theme of this year’s World Cities Summit, “Liveable and Sustainable Cities: Rejuvenate, Reinvent, Reimagine”, both timely and important.

      1. This Opening Plenary, in particular, will discuss how we can achieve smart, resilient and regenerative cities.

  5. This is especially critical in the face of 2 common challenges – climate change and aging demographics.

    1. In Singapore, our third National Climate Change Study released in January this year projected intensifying urban heat, more wet and dry weather extremes, and rising mean sea levels.

      1. In fact, our coolest month now is hotter than our warmest month in the 1960s.

    2. We are also on our way to becoming a “super-aged” society.

      1. In 2020, about 1 in 6 Singaporeans was aged 65 and above.

      2. By 2030, just 6 years away, it would be almost 1 in 4 Singaporeans.

    3. These 2 factors – a changing climate and an aging population – have many implications for us, and for many cities worldwide.

      1. This will change the way our cities and societies function – our economies and workforces, our supply chains, our healthcare systems and our priorities for public finance.

  6. But challenges are also opportunities. Cities, with their vibrancy and dynamism, can serve as problem-solvers and pathfinders for a better future.

    1. Innovation is central to how cities transform ourselves for the future.

    2. To enhance our liveability and sustainability, cities must take a long-term view, and engage citizens and stakeholders to try out novel solutions.

      1. How can we take this long-term view and best harness innovation to make our cities smarter, more resilient and more regenerative?

      2. Allow me to suggest 3 guiding principles.

  7. First, in taking a long-term view, we must empower innovation by investing more deliberately in research, science and technology.

    1. To address complex challenges like climate change and an ageing population, we must tap on innovation built on a strong base of basic research.

      1. In particular, interdisciplinary R&D that brings together different stakeholders – across academia, government and industry – can identify the different dimensions of an issue and address it in a holistic, comprehensive way.

      2. As urban centres with dense networks of talent, expertise and resources, cities are well-placed to leverage the power of innovation to build a more liveable and sustainable future.

    2. In Singapore, the Government has committed S$28 billion to our Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025, or RIE2025, Masterplan.

      1. Under RIE 2025, the Cities of Tomorrow R&D Programme supports research projects in the urban solutions and sustainability domain, including in areas such as liveability and healthy cities.

      2. For example, our Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*STAR, is leading a project to study the interactions between our built environment and mental well-being.

      3. To better understand the direct and indirect relationship between our built environment and mental health, the study will examine factors such as urban design features, density, human behaviours and mental well-being.

      4. The evidence-based insights gleaned from this study will serve to better inform the way that we rejuvenate, reinvent and reimagine our city-state.

    3. We are also deepening our research and knowledge in areas like low-carbon energy solutions, novel foods like alternative proteins, and deploying technologies to make our built environment more sustainable and senior-friendly.

      1. These align with our wider aims of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, strengthening our food security, and making our city more liveable across segments of our population.

      2. Alongside A*STAR’s research institutes, our universities are also building up capabilities in these areas.

      3. For example, the Singapore University of Technology and Design, or SUTD, houses the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities, named after our founding Prime Minister who had a keen interest in smart urban planning.

      4. The Centre is undertaking research on ageing urbanism – to better understand older residents’ needs, and work with partners to develop innovative designs and solutions to meet these needs.

      5. The Singapore Management University has also set up an Urban Institute focusing on many important research areas like urban infrastructure and growth.

  8. Indeed, deploying innovation requires us to translate research capabilities into tangible, applied solutions. This brings me to my second principle – that cities’ investments in innovation must be anchored on people-centric impact.

    1. As leaders, we are charged with the responsibility of improving the lives of our peoples and future generations.

        The new knowledge we gain from science and research must therefore be channelled towards this purpose.

    2. For example, the Health District @ Queenstown project in Singapore brings together multi-disciplinary teams from government, academia and the healthcare sector.

        Working together, these teams drive innovative pilot projects aimed at enhancing the health and well-being of residents, especially seniors, backed by research.

    3. One example is therapeutic gardens which use sensory plants to stimulate the senses and promote relaxation through scents, textures and colours.

      1. In Singapore, we found that therapeutic horticulture benefits seniors in particular – reducing depression, enhancing social connectedness, and improving immunity and cognitive functions.

      2. Our National Parks Board, or NParks, and the Yeo Boon Khim Mind Science Centre at the National University of Singapore have distilled landscape characteristics with therapeutic effects.

      3. These have been translated into design guidelines, which NParks is partnering stakeholders and the community to implement in public housing districts like Queenstown, as well as parks islandwide.

      4. In addition to meeting the physical, social and psychological needs of people using the gardens, such wellness landscapes also form part of the active ageing amenities that promote healthy living and social interaction.

    4. Alongside such collaborations, civic participation – engaging residents who live, work and play in these built environments – also enhances liveability.

      1. I started my career in the Singapore Police Force many years ago and learnt early on how engaging and empowering the community leads to much better public outcomes.

    5. Mexico City, the winner of this year’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, provides a good example of how cities can engage communities inclusively on impactful interventions.

      1. 32% of Mexico City’s population do not have sufficient water for basic needs. In response, the city implemented rainwater harvesting systems and crucially, training programmes for households to install, use, and maintain the systems.

      2. To date, more than 62,000 rainwater harvesting systems have been installed, especially in economically disadvantaged areas that face water shortage.

      3. By engaging residents through the programme, Mexico City has thus been able to improve the sustainability and security of water sources for vulnerable populations.

  9. Minister Desmond Lee earlier mentioned how cities should learn from one another, across borders. And this leads me to my third principle – that cities must build collaborations and partnerships to pursue innovation and impactful urban solutions.

    1. Singapore aspires to be a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise, partnering with innovative nodes around the world on responses to tackle shared challenges.

      1. In fact, this World Cities Summit caps off a series of gatherings that Singapore has hosted in the past week, to bring the best minds together to work on complex problems.

      2. Just a few days ago, I spoke at Asia Tech X Singapore where we discussed how the digital revolution – and in particular, artificial intelligence and quantum computing – can be harnessed to improve people’s lives, including through developing smart cities.

    2. In the spirit of learning from one another, the Centre for Liveable Cities also works with UN-Habitat and other partners to organise capability development programmes. These promote peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange between mayors, city leaders, and officials from around the world.

    3. Challenges like climate change are not confined to borders, so neither should their solutions.

      1. Cross-border collaboration will be crucial for cities to build a collective future of greater liveability and sustainability.

      2. The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) for example has partnered with the Port of Los Angeles (POLA), and the Port of Long Beach (POLB), and signed a Memorandum of Understanding last year to establish a green and digital shipping corridor to decarbonise the maritime shipping industry and improve efficiency in operations.

      3. In April this year, a baseline study highlighted how the corridor could create more than 700 new job opportunities and improve air quality, thus resulting in both economic and health benefits for communities by working together.

  10. Let me conclude. The future for cities remains bright and promising.

    1. Realising this potential will require us to work together to address shared challenges such as climate change and changing demographics.

    2. Collaborative innovation – both within and among cities – will be fundamental to achieving this.

      1. To do so, we must invest more substantively in research, channel new insights into impactful solutions, and build closer partnerships with one another.

      2. By working together, we can unleash innovation that enables transformation and shapes a better future for our peoples.

    3. So let me once again encourage all participants to make the most of this opportunity to exchange valuable insights and learn from one another.

    4. I wish you a fruitful and memorable World Cities Summit, and I hope that the conversations and discussions spark more innovative ways to explore synergies and shape a better future for our peoples.

    5. Thank you very much and enjoy your stay in Singapore.