New ideas and new ways to run cities

In the city of Ahmedabad in India, city officials have been able to tackle some of their transportation issues with a well-run bus rapid transit system, using GPS-enabled buses and dedicated lanes in the middle of the road to replicate the functions of an MRT.

In Kiev, Ukraine, the government is trying to put in place a Wi-Fi network to give Internet access to commuters across all 67.5km of its subway.

Meanwhile in Bandung, Indonesia, officials say a new command centre that includes monitoring social media for municipal problems has sped up their response times.

Innovative solutions to urban planning and municipal problems were a highlight of the World Cities Cities Summit Mayors Forum in New York that wrapped up on Wednesday. The theme of the forum was "Innovative Cities of Opportunity" and there was a clear emphasis on being able to think out of the box to try and find solutions.

But while he lauded the many ground-breaking efforts, Singapore Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee - who chaired the forum - also reminded mayors that innovative thinking did not stop at just trying to harness technology.

Speaking at the close of the summit, he said: "I am heartened to hear that there are more partnerships between city governments and academic institutions to look for new ideas, in tandem with more crowdsourcing of ground-up solutions.

"But in the hot pursuit for new ideas and suggestions, there is also value in pausing and reflecting on how existing systems can be improved or better made use of."

He told reporters later about a discussion mayors had about solving transportation issues where the need to take a step back from the problem came into focus.

During a discussion on increasing the capacity of mass rapid transit, providing cycling paths and improving walkability, the mayor of Medellin, Colombia, asked whether they should also try and make people travel less.

"He just sat there and said, can we look at it from the other angle instead? Let's think about travelling less. For instance, can people telecommute - you work from home instead of travelling to work? Can you change the peak period by shifting the working hours of companies and businesses so you attenuate the peak period crush?

"These are things that Singapore has been looking at as well so that is an affirmation of our approach to look at various angles," he said.

He added that interactions like that were part of the value of the summit to Singapore.

"In as much as Singapore profiles ourselves by sharing our experience with these cities, we are also taking the opportunity to learn from other cities because we must never stop learning from the good points and bad points from other cities."

The summit, which is jointly organised by Singapore's Centre for Livable Cities and Urban Redevelopment Authority, is being held outside Singapore for only the second time.

The New York meeting concluded with a first for the forum, as all the mayors endorsed a declaration outlining principles for building better cities. These include increasing communication between governments and the private sector as well as focusing on long-term plans.

Though the document does not set any binding targets for the leaders, Mr Lee said he hopes it will help guide the conversation on the issue at the United Nations.

He said: "The declaration will be submitted to the United Nations as part of the UN discussion on sustainable development for cities next year and we hope that Singapore can play a role, through this forum, to help shape the international agenda and discussion on sustainable cities."

This article was first published on June 12, 2015.
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