Sustainable Cities

Citizen Participation and Innovation Key to Sustainable Cities

At the World Cities Summit 2022 in Singapore, a city state leader said developing strategies that involve citizen participation and innovation are key to creating sustainable cities into the future.
Visitors tour a cityscape gallery run by Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority. Kiripost via Singapore International Foundation (SIF)
Visitors tour a cityscape gallery run by Singapore's Urban Redevelopment Authority. Kiripost via Singapore International Foundation (SIF)

Singapore has laid out a future vision for the city state’s planning and building that incorporates two key strategies: to harness the power of citizen participation and power of innovation to create a liveable and sustainable city.

Desmond Lee, Singapore’s Minister for National Development, said at ​a recent biennial World Cities Summit held in Singapore that the city-state government conducts its Long-Term Plan Review every ten years with the aim of charting out what Singapore might look like 50 years from today.

During this exercise, the Singaporean government reached out to more than 15,000 citizens to understand their hopes and dreams for the future city. In addition, officials wanted to get ideas from them on what the government can do, he added.

“Citizen participation can be a powerful force for good, if we can harness it well and work well with diverse groups, with strong, passionate individuals,” said Lee, who is also minister in charge of social services integration.

“We will need to tap into the diverse talents and energies of our people, and work together to address the difficult challenges of our time,” he added.

Lee’s comments come as a deputy governor of Phnom Penh, who also attended the World Cities Summit, said numerous efforts and initiatives have been ongoing in the Cambodian capital to promote citizen participation and green cities.

Deputy governor Nuon Pharath said both the capital’s city council and board of governors regularly organize public forums in every district.

He added that communes and neighborhoods in each district organize public forums to hear and collect needs and demands from local residents.

“[Requested] needs and demands received directly from the local [residents] would be transferred into immediate actions and into city planning, including the three-year moving plan as well as the five-year plan for Phnom Penh,” Pharath told Kiripost.

He said in Phnom Penh, the public, especially students and academics, are given the opportunity to take part in city planning. Additionally, initiatives have been launched by the capital to promote the city to be green and sustainable.

According to Pharath, a smart and sustainable Phnom Penh committee was created in 2018 to support smart urban planning and sustainable projects.

In addition to investing a significant amount of budget into green development that ranges from waste management to green spaces, Pharath said the capital has also adopted a ‘Smart and Sustainable Strategic Roadmap for Phnom Penh 2022-2035’ to guide sustainable development.

However, the World Bank highlighted in its publication “Urban Development in Phnom Penh” that poor implementation of plans and limited institutional capacity are major constraints to efficient urbanization.

“Though an abundance of plans related to urban development exist, the implementation of these plans and enforcement of regulations is weak leaving much scope for informality and haphazard development,” the report said.

Other constraints include lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities and unsustainable financing.

Commenting on citizen participation in city planning, Aronsakda Ses,​ Junior Research Fellow at research think tank Future Forum Cambodia, said there are few platforms that allow civic engagement, input, and feedback to influence urban planning policy and design.

“Creating opportunities for formal engagement and tying them to the planning and administrative function of cities are an obvious answer,” said Aronsakda, who regularly writes op-eds on urban planning.

“I think it is more important to foster public engagement in an informal manner, and on the scales of neighborhoods and districts. Because this is a scale where enough people can be engaged in transforming their neighborhood and not be bogged down by the bureaucracy of larger, city-scale agendas,” he added.

Regarding the second strategy – harnessing the power of innovation, the Singaporean government has launched the Cities of Tomorrow Research and Development (R&D) program. During the next five years, Singapore has allocated $66 million for R&D, according to Lee.

The program will identify key urban challenges, and develop R&D solutions to support resilient, sustainable, and liveable cities.

“We will also develop solutions that use the latest technologies, like data analytics and AI, to enable more effective urban planning that can cope with more complexities,” he said.