Policies to spur wider use of digital tech a key to unlocking smart cities' potential: Desmond Lee

National Development Minister Desmond Lee (centre) said digitalisation and decarbonisation were two major trends for cities. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - In Singapore, smart technologies that can adjust lighting and district cooling systems to optimise energy use and reduce the carbon footprint in Punggol Digital District have been implemented.

In the Netherlands, the Port of Rotterdam provides real-time data to shipping firms and other users through common digital platforms. This optimises port calls, enabling the port to remain fully operational through the pandemic and even reduce its emissions.

These were examples cited by National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Sunday (July 31) to bolster how the full potential of smart cities can be unlocked.

They show how the right policies can help digital technologies to be used more widely and to reach more people.

Speaking at the Mayors Forum at the World Cities Summit on Sunday, Mr Lee highlighted digitalisation and decarbonisation as the two major trends that cities have to keep an eye on.

While the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital tools in many cities, building smart cities have to go beyond just the technologies alone, said Mr Lee.

“It is also about how we integrate these technologies into our wider urban systems, across different users, and support them with the right plans and policies,” he said.

The one-day Mayors Forum, chaired by Mr Lee, was attended by 65 leaders from cities around the world. 

Held yearly, the forum tackles the common urban challenges that cities face through case studies and the sharing of best practices. 

The focus of this year’s forum is closely linked to the smart city, one in an urban setting that applies technology to enhance the benefits and diminish the shortcomings of urbanisation for its citizens.

Next year’s Mayors Forum will be held in Seoul, the 2018 winner of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, which is given to cities that are outstanding in tackling urban challenges.

On Sunday, another highlight at the World Cities Summit was the Young Leaders Symposium, which was attended by more than 80 participants from 15 cities, where topics such as long-term urban planning and climate change were discussed.

Held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, this year’s edition of the summit – themed Liveable And Sustainable Cities: Emerging Stronger – will end on Wednesday.

The biennial summit was started by Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities in 2008 to bring together leaders and industry experts to discuss liveable and sustainable city challenges.

Delegates at the World Cities Summit on July 31, 2022. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Decarbonisation also dominated the discussions at the Mayors Forum on Sunday.

Referencing Singapore’s commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by or around mid-century, Mr Lee said these ambitious plans will require Singapore to navigate the trade-offs between more substantial sustainability efforts and their potentially higher costs, among other things.

But in negotiating these trade-offs, it is possible to find win-win solutions and unlock new opportunities if cities take a people-centric approach to galvanise all to do their part, he said.

The Yokohama Eco School in Japan, for instance, draws on citizen participation to offer seminars, activities and projects that encourage eco-friendly lifestyles, he said.

“We stand the greatest chance of success if we can bring our people together... Because cities are not just about technology and infrastructure. Fundamentally, they are about our people,” he added.

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