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Civic voice and innovation increasingly important in reshaping cities: URA chairman

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TODAY, it is the people - and not just the authorities - who are reshaping the that way cities are run.

TODAY, it is the people - and not just the authorities - who are reshaping the that way cities are run. Governments may also not be in the best place to innovate, and should focus on faciliting innovation by installing funding incentives and flexible, innovation-friendly regulations.

These were comments by Peter Ho, chairman of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), at the World Cities Summit closing plenary on Tuesday.

His views were echoed by other speakers.

Mr Ho said that in today's environment, empowered citizens can become potential agents of positive change and innovation, and solutions are no longer just in the hands of experts or city officials.

"A smart city is in a sense only limited by our imagination. We can only begin to imagine the endless possible futures that smart cities can offer to us. However, municipal governments are not necessarily structured to reach this level of imagination and boldness. Maybe it is not even their business," he said.

"Innovation at this level is better achieved by the private sector and by individuals, people with the daring and the ideas. The cities of tomorrow can be driven by their citizens who have a greater stake in ensuring a sustainable and liveable future for their cities.

"The best cities of tomorrow would be the sum of many innovations, both big and small. Some of these innovations, because of the scale, will be the province of governments and big businesses, but many more will be the vision of citizens and small businesses."

His views were somewhat echoed by Senior Minister of State for National Development and Home Affairs, Desmond Lee, who said in his closing speech that there is an increasing voice of the people - not just through social activism - but also through social media and technology, which magnify their voice to also galvanise others to action.

"In the good old days, or in fact, in the classical principles of governance, you assume that people are rational actors, you know what policies or objectives you want, and you apply the tools of government - laws, regulations, enforcement, incentives, taxation, moral suasion, public education, campaigns, drives - to get your subjects, your people, to behave in a particular way to achieve certain objectives.

"But that is classical, that's old school. There's still some basis there. But increasingly, we see governments with the benefit of technology and outreach, getting people involved . . . and going beyond that, planting seeds or allowing seeds to grow, letting citizen activism help as part of the solution. And of course, at the highest level, working side by side to identify the problems and design the solutions."