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Speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development, at the Urban Planning Festival and CUBE award ceremony at the URA Centre Atrium

  Published: 22 March 2017

Mr Ng Lang, CEO/URA

Distinguished guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

With 720 square kilometres that make up our island to house all our needs and aspirations, we have to make the most use of our limited resources. Land is limited. In one of the few sovereign city-states in the world, the constraints we face are very real; and sometimes trade-offs cannot be avoided.

The story of Singapore’s planning efforts and our city’s transformation is showcased right here at this Singapore City Gallery. You would have seen how meticulous planning, coordination and execution have transformed our island. We are a modern, sophisticated and densely populated urban city, yet, rather paradoxically, nearly half of our island is covered by greenery. We are known as a City in a Garden, and a recent study affirmed this – it was reported about a month ago that we beat 16 major cities in green urban areas.

For us, it is not, and cannot just be about urbanisation at all cost; many big urban centres around the world, unfortunately, are concrete jungles. We have to work very hard to strike a balance to grow sustainably and maintain a highly liveable environment. Look at our skyline, our green spaces, the rejuvenation of our heartlands, and our heritage buildings.

All these do not happen by chance. We have to take a long-term view for planning. Our planners have to be prepared to look even beyond their lifetimes. This approach in this small island of ours that we call home needs to be carried on from one generation to the next, so that Singapore remains a distinctive city and an endearing home, with a high quality living environment. 

This is why URA reaches out to all of you, our young citizens and future leaders, hoping to engage and inspire you to get actively involved in making our city better for you and for future generations.

For more than a decade now, URA has been working closely with students and educators. From learning about our challenges and our opportunities, our young people can better appreciate how our city has been designed and planned – a city that is sustainable, highly liveable, inclusive and fosters a sense of community.

Urban Planning Festival

And this is what the Urban Planning Festival sets out to do. Last year, URA launched the inaugural edition. This platform created an immersive experience for students like you to explore and deepen your interest and involvement in urban planning and design, and get you and your classmates and friends thinking about how we can improve the quality of our living environment.

I am encouraged to see so many of you actively participating in projects to document our city. We often walk past many things in Singapore as we go to school, home or go out. We tend to take them for granted, but this project gets you to actively document aspects of our city that sometimes we just see but miss. Also, there are many of you signing up as volunteer guides to share what you have learnt with others around you.

Take the Challenge for the Urban and Built Environment Workshop (or the CUBE Workshop) which many of you participated in for example. Some of you worked on a real site, and went through the full works of urban planning. I heard some of you found the planning process challenging and rigorous. The experience is what our urban planners here at URA go through every day, finding that delicate balance between people, nature, and heritage, maintaining that balance, evolving and developing it as people’s expectations change, and designing and building our city in a way that is sustainable and highly liveable.

It was not easy, but I’m sure many of you found the experience rewarding and inspiring, and you felt a great sense of satisfaction when you came up with your vision, concepts and plans for the site. I look forward to walking around later, getting from you an introduction on your project, and presenting prizes to the winners of last year’s competition.

The URA Conservation department has also developed a new collaboration with our friends from ITE College West to train students as volunteer conservation guides. In fact, some of the students will be leading heritage tours around Tiong Bahru as part of the festival’s programme. This initiative offers another dimension for young Singaporeans to play a greater role, not just as passive participants in the programme, but also as mobilisers - to share what you have learnt about our heritage and our built environment, what gives us a sense of identity, and create greater awareness and appreciation of our conservation efforts and national development.

There is also the project “Documenting Serangoon Road”, which engages talented young photographers to capture the charm of the historic district. This is really a great way to document the city through your eyes – the eyes of our younger Singaporeans. With the support of the National Youth Achievement Awards team and four dedicated mentors, you spent an entire year uncovering the hidden gems in the historic Serangoon Road area – seeing its life and diversity.

Your photos will go into URA’s archives as our record and help us prepare for the future. Because the better we understand our past, the more prepared we are to engage with the world of today, and to chart a path for our shared future.

Shaping Singapore

It is encouraging to see all of you, our younger generation of Singaporeans, take on an active role in defining the identity of your city and creating and appreciating a place that is inclusive for all, safe, resilient and sustainable for our future generations. This is not just a job just for our planners. We must all work together to build our city of possibilities and opportunities, making our public spaces more vibrant, deepening our appreciation for our heritage and environment, and enlivening our streets. When we get involved and do more, we grow our sense of identity, ownership and become more connected to our city.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our sponsors, partners, teachers, mentors, as well as students in making this festival a success.

So congratulations to all our students. I hope you will continue to enjoy the rest of the activities lined up in this Urban Planning Festival.

Thank you.