Tharman on “immense challenge” of smart urban planning

Singapore’s Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has delivered the keynote address at a Washington conference designed to encourage world decision makers to make smarter decisions on urban planning.

Mr Tharman was speaking as finance ministers gather in Washington for a series of meetings at the IMF and World Bank and with the G7 and G20 groups of nations.

Singapore is partnering with the World Bank to encourage developing nations to create smart and ecologically orientated cities as officials deal with rapid urban growth.

The World Bank calls urbanization the defining phenomenon of this century, with the developing world being at the centre of this demographic transformation from rural life.

The challenges this creates and the possible solutions are being discussed at the
Singapore-World Bank Conference on Urban Development in Washington.

“Our challenges on poverty alleviation are not necessarily just in rural areas. It’s going to be in urban areas, for much of the world. So we can’t afford to sit back and not take a strategic view about how the World Bank should be transforming itself as well,” said Janamitra Devan from the International Finance Corporation, which is a member of the World Bank Group.

During his keynote address at the conference, Minister Tharman said Asia needs to get to grips with the task ahead.

He said: “The next 15 to 20 years will be years of immense challenge for Asia because of the magnitude of urbanization that’s going to take place in South East Asia, India, China, especially.”

Some of Singapore’s top urban-planning professionals went to Washington to share some of their best practices in areas like housing, sustainable industrial development, water and waste management.

Mr Tharman said: “But the challenge of providing reasonably high quality, high density living, organizing cities so as to allow for economic innovation and growth is an immense challenge. And we can either succeed or fail, and we can easily fail, if we don’t go about this without sufficient pre-thought and planning.”

After recently leaving her job as Indonesia’s finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati is now a managing director at the World Bank and she endorses the example Singapore is providing to developing countries.

She said: “Singapore has become a leader among developing and developed countries cities in its effort towards achieving economic growth and at the same time maintaining social harmony and environmental sustainability.”

Singapore is now engaged in explaining how the city-state was transformed and providing expertise to developing nations on how to plan and execute smarter cities.

But Minister Tharman said Singapore is still learning from other nations as well.

He said: “We are not a model of something that has reached perfection. We are merely a model of constant learning and adaptation and trying to make the best use of the ideas that we find in the world around us.”

The conference also touched on the joint Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City currently in development in northeast China as a test bed for future urban solutions.

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