The World Cities Summit 2012: First Day Observations from Singapore
First-day Observations at the World Cities Summit 2012
Record attendance from all over the world
Over 15,000 delegates from all over the world attended the opening today – on a Sunday. It's easy to explain a weekend crowd during the Great Singapore Sale, but when ministers, mayors, senior executives, academics, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists come from all over the world to spend their Sunday at a summit, you know you're not at an ordinary event. Well, more accurately – events...
For the first time, an integrated approach to making cities more livable and sustainable
This year's biennial World Cities Summit – the third one since 2008 – is held in conjunction with the fifth edition of the Singapore International Water Week and the inaugural CleanEnviro Summit Singapore. It is the first time all three events are held together, with a focus on creating integrated solutions to address the increasing complexities of high-density urban living.
Noticeably, the Singapore International Energy Week, which takes place from 22 – 25 October 2012, remains independent from this mix for now.
Guest of honour - Prime Minister
The official opening ceremony took place in the evening – after a full day of presentations, panel discussions and workshops; and the guest of honour was no less than the Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr Lee Hsien Loong.
Other prominent guests amongst foreign dignitaries include His Excellency Kamal Nath, India’s Minister of Urban Development and Ms Helen Clark, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and former Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Singapore - the host country
One cannot help but appreciate the fact that the summit is taking place in the most densely populated city and country in the world, Singapore.
The joint emphasis on water and cleanliness this year is also especially meaningful. PM Lee reminded the delegates in his opening speech, that water was once Singapore's "strategic weakness". Today, after much significant investment in the water industry, Singapore is recognised for her water technology and research. Singapore is also well-known for something else – the degree of cleanliness in the city state, making her an apt host to a summit focused on clean environments!
These three events will continue to run until 5 July 2012 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Center, with more than 900 participating companies in a wide range of sectors like water, energy, environment, waste, IT, architecture, planning, financing and real estate; and occupying over 26,000 square metres of covered exhibition space.
Look out for…
Looking around the room during the press conference today, I know there will be sufficient media coverage (in mainstream media), over the next few days, on the key highlights of the summit:
- Dialogues and activities to encourage partnerships for problem-solving – partnerships within the private sector, and partnerships that bridge the public and private sector.
- Focused discussions on region and country-specific issues – for China, India, Japan and South-east Asia.
- Flagship Urban Solution Tracks (FUST) on “Intense Cities”, “Resilient Cities”, “Smart Cities”, “Inclusive Cities”, “Eco Cities”, Biodiverse Cities”, “Mobile Cities” and “Investing in Cities”.
- The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize & Forum
The event program looks pretty complete, and I can’t imagine any topic left unaddressed after the summit. But there are a couple of things I hope to see a lot more of.
Support for grassroots innovation
Most of the effort in driving the agenda and creating solutions for sustainable cities seem rather top-down in nature. Established organisations, MNCs, governments, VCs and think tanks are taking the lead in creating sustainable cities. A quick walk around the World Cities Summit Expo will reveal that there is little, if any, spirit of open collaboration; and regard for the non-conventional experts.
Spotting a UP Singapore booth was a pleasant surprise. Amidst the low volume of chatter on Twitter, I found (and later got in touch with) Christine Outram of the Re:imagine Group, and who uses the handle @cityinnovation. She speaks about UP Singapore tomorrow morning, and I intend to write about it in detail.
Also missing, is simplicity that makes all dialogue (and persuasion) on sustainable cities truly accessible to the man on the street. In just one day, I was introduced to very compelling facts and figures that erase any doubt – that the world needs to come together quickly, and find solutions that make cities both livable and sustainable. But we lack simple triggers that would help every single person make the small, daily choices that can profoundly impact our cities.
IBM seems to have something brewing, and perhaps other exhibitors. That will be another topic worth investigating.
Finally – and this is quite related to my first point on the seeming absence of grassroots participation – the Twittersphere was rather tame today. I had expected a much more vibrant dialogue connecting a global audience that was physically absent from the summit today. But there was none.
I’d be keen to visit more exhibitors tomorrow, and learn what they think about Social Media, and if it can make a difference in they way they are innovating.
Sustainable Cities Collective