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Community partners key to lasting urban progress

NGOs and other community groups are vital to prolonged progress on urban liveability, said New York City’s parks commissioner in Singapore on Monday.

Speaking at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize lecture on behalf of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Adrian Benepe highlighted the policies that have changed the city from a crime-ridden urban blight in the 1970’s to a safe, pedestrian-friendly urban community.

Policies from Mayor Bloomberg and preceding mayors have helped create a vibrant, liveable city with low crime rates, innovative parks and a blossoming cycling population, but it is the community partnerships that keep the momentum going, he noted.

“It’s the people who will keep our feet to the fire after the Mayor steps down,” he said.

Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2007 - a long-term urban renewal plan that integrates the efforts of city agencies, businesses and community groups to develop a liveable, environmentally friendly city by 2030 – led to New York clinching the second LKY World City Prize since the award began in 2010.

Under PlaNYC, New York has rezoned more than one third of its land area since 2002 to improve underused industrial space. In doing so, it has made land available to commercial developers with the condition that they set aside and maintain land for parks and public space.

The city has also created pedestrian-only zones on some streets – including Times Square - and has added 450 kilometres of bicycle lanes since 2007.

Mr Benepe said that, with the help of community planning of new parks and playgrounds, New Yorkers have created innovative new models for park management such as the High Line – a community-managed park built on a disused, elevated rail track that was once slated for demolition.

Although the Parks Department keeps responsibility for funding and maintenance of almost all parks, community members invest both labour and money into their neighbourhood parks. Community groups raise about US$160 million each year for park initiatives, he added.

Commissioner Benepe received the award, first announced in March, from Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at an award ceremony later that evening. Held in conjunction with the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize award presentation, the banquet took place at the Marina Bay Sands convention centre as part of the co-located World Cities Summit, CleanEnviro Summit and Singapore International Water Week events.

Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize Laureates receive an award certificate, a gold medallion and a cash prize of S$300,000 (about US$218,000) sponsored by the Keppel Corporation.

Dutch water technology expert Mark van Loosdrecht received the fifth annual Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize for his work on wastewater treatment. The Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) professor developed a method of removing nitrogen from wastewater using naturally occurring bacteria called Anammox.

His method, which has been trialling in Singapore’s Changi Water Reclamation facility for the past two years, reduces carbon emissions by up to 90 per cent and energy for pumping in oxygen by up to 60 per cent.

The Lee Kuan Yew awards, named after Singapore’s first prime minister, recognise innovations that promote better technologies and policies for the world’s cities.

New York City’s Mr Benepe said the city, where 84 per cent of the population is now within walking distance of a park, has developed policies that can be replicated in most cities around the world.

“Plans to make cities bicycle and pedestrian friendly can be done in any city,” he said.

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