Cities should stay open, prepare their citizens to compete for jobs: Teo Chee Hean

Cities should focus on preparing their people to take up the new opportunities created, said Mr Teo Chee Hean. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Cities should continue to stay open to investments and talent from around the world, in the face of growing anti-globalisation and populism.

Doing so is key to creating progress and keeping their economies vibrant, thereby providing good jobs and better opportunities for residents, said Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean on Monday (Aug 1) at the World Cities Summit held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Mr Teo had listed several challenges that cities face, including how to stay open and yet remain cohesive when existing residents have their lives disrupted by globalisation and technological advances.

"The fruits of globalisation are not distributed equitably and may accrue to the new arrivals more than existing residents," he said, noting this is seen in major cities worldwide and in Singapore.

"Rather than to close ourselves, which will mean that cities will no longer serve their proper purpose of bringing people together, cities should continue to stay open to investments and talents from around the world."

Cities should thus focus on preparing their people to take up the new opportunities created, he said, adding that this could take the form of a "forward-looking education system", coupled with continuing education and life-long learning.

This ensures a city can continue to advance, and its citizens are better equipped to compete fairly for the good jobs created, said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

Besides staying open, he also highlighted two other dilemmas that cities face - whether to build in a concentrated manner and how to achieve growth sustainably.

On the density of cities, Mr Teo said good planning, through a "creative combination of centralisation and distribution", can maximise the benefits of urbanisation. This can be done via a comprehensive transportation system, good organisation of heavy infrastructure like waste treatment facilities as well as digitalistion, he added.

More research and development is needed for cities to tap green growth opportunities, he noted, adding that cities can be "living laboratories" for companies and researchers to develop, test and validate sustainable technologies.

Citing the price of water in Singapore - which reflects the full cost of its supply and production, and includes a conservation tax - Mr Teo said the cost of externalities have to be priced into activities and resources.

This will incentivise consumers and businesses to take into account the real cost of using these resources and avoid excessive consumption or waste, he said, adding that this pricing approach has allowed Singapore to invest in recycling water for potable use.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean speaking at the World Cities Summit on Aug 1, 2022. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Mr Teo's speech was preceded by a dialogue on emerging stronger from the pandemic, where public and private sector leaders suggested ways to build more resilient communities.

South Africa's Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Patricia de Lille said governments should tap citizen expertise in designing cities.

"Any decisions that we make, we must overlay our decisions with design-led thinking. And we must use our communities to help us design future solutions because they will be the beneficiaries," she said.

UN-Habitat executive director Maimunah Sharif urged leaders to look out for the most vulnerable in their populace.

Challenges such as climate change would impact those who are vulnerable as well as the urban poor the most, she said, citing how the pandemic exposed those with housing difficulties to greater challenges, as they could not isolate themselves safely during lockdowns.

Dr Chi Youngcho, president and chief innovation officer of Hyundai Motor Group, said private sector firms can contribute effectively to cities through technology that improves lives.

"The most important question we must ask is do (new products) address the unmet needs of citizens?" he said. "We strongly believe that all cities should be human-centred, and that smart-city technologies can only have a place if they can improve the lives of the people who live in those cities."

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