World Cities Summit

S'pore needs to relook how land is used: Desmond Lee

Pandemic has changed habits, highlighted importance of land adaptable to other uses

FLEXIBLE LAND USECovid-19 has also highlighted the importance of land that can be quickly adapted for emergencies, such as the community care facility built at Tanjong Pagar Terminal last year. COMMUNITY SPIRIT The minister also cheered the groundswe
OFFICE SPACES: As Singapore moves towards more remote working, issues such as how much office space is needed have to be relooked, says National Development Minister Desmond Lee.ST FILE PHOTO
FLEXIBLE LAND USECovid-19 has also highlighted the importance of land that can be quickly adapted for emergencies, such as the community care facility built at Tanjong Pagar Terminal last year. COMMUNITY SPIRIT The minister also cheered the groundswe
FLEXIBLE LAND USE: Covid-19 has also highlighted the importance of land that can be quickly adapted for emergencies, such as the community care facility built at Tanjong Pagar Terminal last year. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
FLEXIBLE LAND USECovid-19 has also highlighted the importance of land that can be quickly adapted for emergencies, such as the community care facility built at Tanjong Pagar Terminal last year. COMMUNITY SPIRIT The minister also cheered the groundswe
COMMUNITY SPIRIT: The minister also cheered the groundswell of Covid-19 community initiatives that have seen many step forward to lend a helping hand, and said this spirit of support should live on after the pandemic. ST FILE PHOTO

As Singapore moves towards more remote working arrangements, issues such as how much office space is needed and the design of workplaces and homes have to be relooked, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.

More broadly, the country has to review its approach to land use and city planning as the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted many aspects of the way people live, work and play, he added yesterday.

Public engagement for Singapore's long-term plan will start next month, he said in a speech at the World Cities Summit.

The long-term plan - formerly known as the concept plan - is reviewed every 10 years and guides Singapore's development over the next 50 years and beyond. It was last reviewed in 2011.

Mr Lee said Covid-19 has also highlighted the importance of being adaptable in city planning, and for land-scarce Singapore to have land that can be easily converted to other uses: "The pandemic has shown that we also need to buffer some 'white space' that can be quickly adapted for emergencies."

He cited former schools and convention centres that were converted into quarantine and community care facilities, as well as community centres that were first used to distribute masks and TraceTogether tokens and are now functioning as vaccination centres.

Another important takeaway is the need to keep cities liveable and connected, he added.

"The pandemic has kept people within the city but away from crowded urban and indoor areas. Parks and green spaces have thus become important places for many Singaporeans to seek respite and recreation," he said.

And with less in-person interaction, digital connectivity has been vital to allow people to continue working and learning - including with overseas partners, he added, citing the summit as an example.

The summit, which ends tomorrow, is being held in a hybrid format, taking place online and in person at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

A key theme that ran through different sessions at the summit was how cities can adapt to a world disrupted by the pandemic.

Various leaders spoke on this topic, including World Bank president David Malpass, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Mr Armin Laschet, minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia and leader of Germany's governing Christian Democratic Union party.

Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah spoke of how cities have to build infrastructure that not only withstands climate change and pandemics, but also helps reduce inequality and strengthen resilience.

In his speech, Mr Lee said Covid-19 has also shown the importance of trust throughout society, which he added is maintained through regular and transparent communication, making decisions based on scientific and factual evidence, as well as fighting the spread of misinformation.

"An effective pandemic response requires citizens to make sacrifices, which they will only accept if they trust that these are for the greater good," he explained.

"Trust is hard to build but easy to lose. And a crisis can easily divide a society if everyone only looks out for themselves." In addition, both government leadership and active community involvement are important. Mr Lee noted that while governments are needed to coordinate efforts, the community is the "glue" that holds people together and provides "last-mile support".

The minister also outlined how the pandemic has challenged and changed many aspects of life in Singapore quite drastically, like when the country had to implement a circuit breaker last year to stem the spread of the virus.

Some changes in the way people work are likely to stay, such as remote or hybrid working arrangements and serving customers through virtual platforms, he said.

These shifts have brought about social challenges as well, such as burnout and fatigue from working from home over time, he noted.

More broadly, the pandemic may worsen social inequalities as certain parts of the economy resume strong growth while other sectors lag behind, Mr Lee said.

But he also cheered the groundswell of community initiatives that have seen many Singaporeans step forward to lend a helping hand: "This spirit of mutual support is the kind of social DNA that we want to encourage even after the pandemic."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore needs to relook how land is used: Desmond Lee'. Subscribe