Singapore and I have been in a relationship for more than 20 years.
We first met in 1994, when I was an undergraduate. I had been selected as a Singapore International Foundation-ASEAN Fellowship scholar, and my stint as an exchange student at the National University of Singapore (NUS) was the first time I had ventured out of Indonesia.
Singapore was unlike anything I had experienced before - a new way of life, another culture different from my own. It was my first taste of the world beyond my home.
My lessons in Singapore did not just come from the semester of study at NUS or the introductory programme by Singapore International Foundation (SIF), which was comprehensive and which introduced me and the other SIF-ASEAN scholars to Singapore's policies, strategies and way of life. Everything I encountered in Singapore and the people I interacted with on a daily basis were learning experiences to me. I think my greatest takeaways were Singapore's systematic and well-organised urban design and its innovative use of technology.
In hindsight, I think this first encounter with Singapore helped ready me for my professional and political careers by broadening my perspectives and preparing me to learn from and collaborate with communities in the more than 150 cities I've worked in and visited over the subsequent years.
As an architect, I was based in New York, San Francisco and Hong Kong, and I have worked on major projects across the globe - some of which brought me back to Singapore. I was involved in urban development projects there, the biggest of which was the Marina Bay Waterfront Master Plan, a six-year plan for developing the area which is now known as Marina Bay. I also pitched my designs for the JTC Corporation's Biopolis Master Plan and for an area in Punggol. Throughout the years, Singapore - from its well-designed parks and walkways to its innovative architecture in developments such as the Esplanade and Gardens by the Bay - has served as my reference point for building a modern city-state.
And building a liveable city of the future is my mission now as mayor of the city of Bandung. Bandung is Indonesia's third-largest city and is unique because it is a city of youth. Sixty per cent of the population is under 40 years old. It is a well-connected generation and the people are very active on social media. In fact, Bandung is ranked No. 6 in the world in terms of Twitter usage.
My team and I need to be creative so that we can engage and interact with Bandung's people - to discuss their views, complaints, questions and suggestions. This is why, in addition to my physical campaigns on the ground, I've taken to Twitter to reach my constituents.
And what do we talk about? As mayor, I think the greatest challenge I face is instilling a progressive mindset in the people of Bandung. We have introduced, through social media and ground campaigning, an initiative called Bandung Fun Days to galvanise the community into improving its way of life and transform Bandung into a more liveable city.
Monday is "Free Bus Day" for students, to promote the use of public buses instead of private transport. Tuesday is "Non-smoking Day", to encourage people not to smoke at least one day a week. Wednesday is "Sundanese Day" when we promote the use of our local language and celebrate our culture and customs. Thursday is "English Day", because all of us are encouraged to use English in our daily communications. Friday is "Bike to Work Day", and Saturday is "Culinary Festival Day" because Bandung is known as one of Indonesia's top culinary destinations.
Although the innovations I am bringing to Bandung are doubtlessly inspired by the many other countries I have lived and worked in, I must say that my Singapore experience continues to guide me, especially in the areas of governance, urban development and the use of technology. We are preparing 1,000ha in Bandung to be turned into the Silicon Valley of Indonesia, for which some ideas were sparked by the concept of the Biopolis in Buona Vista. This is the reason I have asked my team to visit the Biopolis to gather insights and best practices.
I am in talks with the Singapore Government for collaboration on strategies for innovating Bandung's public service through the concept of "e-governance" as well as an environmental co-operation agreement, and we are sending deputies to government courses in Singapore to learn more about administration.
Most recently, I have introduced a new law to fine people who litter in Bandung - a leaf I took from the book of Singapore, the "Fine City"!
I am living proof of the benefits that an international exchange programme like the SIF-ASEAN fellowship can bring, and I see it as a long-term investment that benefits cross-cultural relationships by nurturing the young leaders of the future.
When I was a student in Singapore, I made friends from around the world and deepened my understanding of their cultures. Now, as mayor, I've come to see how important this understanding is when collaborating with other governments and global communities.
The writer is Mayor, City of Bandung, Indonesia.
This article was first published on June 13, 2015.
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