PM Lee Hsien Loong calls for 'reimagining of Singapore'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with moderator Charles Wong, at the Ministerial Forum of the Singapore University of Technology and Design in Changi on April 5, 2018. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - It is time to reimagine and rebuild Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, calling for the development of a visionary plan that takes the country from SG50 to SG100 and beyond.

In a speech to university students and faculty on Thursday (April 5), he acknowledged wryly that they may find the comment odd.

"Nearly every inch of our land is developed or planned for, and there does not seem to be any more empty space for development. So how can we reimagine and rebuild further?"

"The answer is by freeing up new parcels of land, and enabling already developed parts of Singapore to be redeveloped, to be modernised and improved. With imagination and determination, we can do it," he said.

This is being done for instance through the movement of Paya Lebar Airbase to Changi and the movement of ports from Tanjong Pagar and Pasir Panjang to Tuas.

In building for the future, Singapore should take full advantage of the experience and resources accumulated, the imagination and skills of its people, and the vibrancy of the surrounding region, said PM Lee, who spoke at the inaugural Ministerial Forum of the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) in Changi.

The aim is to create an outstanding living environment, "a new city built on a human scale with distinctive local identities", he said. This goes beyond well-designed buildings and infrastructure to urban design which is user friendly and well-integrated into neighbourhoods.

Good design involves not just the hardware aspects of engineering and architecture, or the application of technology, but needs a deep understanding of the softer aspects of how individuals behave and how society works, he said.

Singapore should also capitalise on what previous generations have built, he added.

"We should preserve the most important parts from the past, to maintain a sense of history and continuity, and add on the ideas and contributions of a new generation, so that like other great cities in the world - London, Paris, Shanghai, New York, Tokyo - Singapore can become a multi-layered city, a metropolis with a rich history, and yet is vibrant and alive, always changing, always fresh."

One important piece of the reinvention of the city is the public transport system, he said.

It is on the surface an engineering problem, where the network has to have the right connections and coverage, sufficient capacity and flexibility, and be easily maintained so that trains run safely and reliably.

On another level, it is an economic problem, with incentives needed for the different players - operators, asset owners, the Government and commuters - to help the whole system work well. Train and bus ownership and maintenance, and payments and fares also need to be evaluated.

Finally, public transport is a socio-political problem because millions of Singaporeans use it every day, and it is part of the shared experience of living in Singapore and being Singaporean.

"None of us likes it when fares go up. So how do we give the public the assurance that the system is fair, that it is well run, and that when fares go up, they have to go up for a good reason, and the increases are necessary and justified?" he said.

"We have to evaluate the trade-offs carefully and holistically, to decide what will work best, on the whole, for Singapore."

This way of looking at issues through design thinking has been a part of the nation's history, and many other policies benefit from good design, said PM Lee.

"Singapore is a nation by design. Nothing we have today is natural, or happened by itself... not our economic growth, not our international standing, not our multiracial harmony, not even our nationhood."

From setting up the Housing Development Board to moving towards self-sufficiency in the water supply, the pioneers created major components that make up modern Singapore.

He added: "We didn't call it design thinking then, but with each of these major policies, our founding fathers had to understand the issues, define the problem, come up with creative ideas and solutions, prototype the idea, test out the innovations, and constantly review the thinking and the solutions."

Addressing the SUTD students present, PM Lee urged them to apply design thinking in whatever field they choose to work in.

"It will be your turn to paint the canvas, to sketch out the next blueprint and masterplan, to create a new road map and skyline.

"I hope that amongst your generation, you will together master the range of skills and disciplines to design, build and run tomorrow's Singapore," he said.

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