Lessons from Singapore: Mayoral Forum

Singapore prides itself on its international outlook and attitude. This nation state has worked methodically and meticulously for more than fifty years to cultivate a culture and city that is distinctively ‘Singaporean’. The city as it stands tall today is credited to its founding father Lee Kuan Yew.

From the time of gaining self-government in 1959 to his death in 2015, Lee Kuan Yew steered Singapore out of social, economic and political dysfunction. Lee’s development strategy was founded on three principles - wealth creation, investment in infrastructure and home ownership. In 1968, Texas Instruments established a chip making plant in Singapore, paving the way for a technology hub that continues to attract global leaders including the likes of Google and Microsoft. Singapore today has twice as many regional corporate headquarters than Tokyo and rivals most Asian megacities.

Against this backdrop, it is no wonder that over 120 Mayors from 160 cities across 5 continents congregated into the Convention in downtown Singapore to mark the sixth World Cities Summit.The Summit theme of Embracing the Future through Innovation and Collaboration illustrates how technology and innovation remain a city central thread that continues to weave its way to drive the city’s future.

The Mayors gathering prior to the Summit is an opportunity for these global leaders to share, shape and synthesise the global city agenda. The six hours dedicated to Mayoral discussion never seems enough to really communicate and comprehend the depth of the commitment, challenges and achievements of these urban leaders.

By afternoon close however, the urban Mayors coalesce around critical themes. Central to the future of cities and citizenry is the notion that change and innovation must be embraced. These disrupters will create the future and it is vital that urban leaders create space for ideas and innovation to happen. City structures must change to enable co-creation - both within the city organisation and the community. Most importantly, the role of the Mayor and city leaders is to tell the story of the future, enable partnerships and make the future ‘real’ for the community.

Cr Sam Aziz (left), Emeritus Mayor of the city of Casey , Katherine O'Regan (middle), Executive Director of Cities Leadership Institute, Taliessin Reaburn (right), the Australian Trade Commissioner to Singapore.

In closing the Mayoral Forum, the last word spoken was about the people. This cemented the idea that every decision and action taken by Mayors and urban leaders must be based on making life better and happier for the citizens - that as leaders, they must generate trust with the citizens to connect people and aggregate relationships.

Whether you are a critic or a supporter, Lee Kuan Yew was a man driven by a steely determination and conviction to proactively manage urbanization for the people. His legacy has laid the foundations and lessons for a city and its leaders.

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