Photo credits: The Straits Times, 1 May 2024.

The Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (LKYCIC) launched its latest book “The City Rebooted: Networks, Connectivity and Place Identities in Singapore”, edited by Prof Chan Heng Chee, SUTD Honorary Professor, and Dr Harvey Neo, Professorial Research Fellow at LKYCIC. The book launch was held on 26 April 2024 in the Living Room at the Arts House.

Prof Cheong Koon Hean, Chair of LKYCIC, kicked off the event with her Welcome Remarks where she shared how the book captures the spirit of LKYCIC and the Centre’s approach to research. For instance, the enthusiastic response to the open call and contributions from diverse authors reflect the heart of the Centre’s interdisciplinary core, and the iterative sharing sessions where individual chapters were debated and sharpened embody the Centre’s philosophy of collaboration and learning.

Prof Chan Heng Chee then gave an overview of the book. Seeds for the project first sprung from the Covid-19 pandemic and concerns over whether cities were hollowing out. Rather than addressing a paradigm shift, the book sought to address perennial questions with a renewed sense of urgency. Redesigning and rebooting to enhance social capital was the key motive and underpins each chapter in the book. Prof Chan concluded with the hope that readers will be left with a greater sense of attachment and appreciation for the city.

Next, Dr Harvey Neo gave a deep dive into one of the book chapters titled “Polycentricity in a City State? Regional Centres as Singapore’s Exceptional Socio-Spatial Development Project”. Through an analysis of connectivity and decentralization in Singapore, he showed that Singapore’s experimentation with regional centres has enabled a complementary relationship between social capital, place identity, and polycentricity. Far from being over, the polycentric project in Singapore still has much potential and illustrates the benefits that cities stand to gain from the adoption of polycentric strategies. Find out more in this article published by The Straits Times.

The third speaker was Dr Rafael Martinez Garcia, Research Fellow at LKYCIC, who shared insights on the chapter “Cultivating Magic: The Discreet Charm of the City Centre”. Dr Garcia contends that the magic of cities, with its charm and uniqueness, not only boosts economic activity but also fosters strong cultural and creative industries. While recognizing that magic is unique and cannot be standardized, he argues that it can be cultivated and should be incorporated into urban planning. Magic is found in the interplay between places and users. Urban spaces should therefore be designed to welcome multiple, unexpected, and meaningful interpretations by their users.

A thought-provoking panel discussion followed with three esteemed panelists – Prof Stephen Hamnett, Emeritus Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of South Australia, Ms Angelene Chan, Chairman of DP Architects, and Mr Chiu Wen Tung, Group Director of Research and Development at the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The discussion centered around three broad questions posed by Prof Chan Heng Chee, moderator of the panel. First, what urban challenges remain unsolved post-pandemic? Second, is the city as a playground a possibility? Third, can magic be designed and should it be in the toolkit of urban planners?

The discussion moved through “work-from-home” as the single biggest change in today’s post-pandemic world, to the magic of the “city that works”. The latter was a reference to the words of Dr Liu Thai Ker, widely known as the Architect of Modern Singapore, from a Panel Discussion during the inaugural Singapore Perspectives Conference organized by the Institute of Policy Studies in 2022. In the Q&A session that ensued, the conversation underscored the importance of Private-Public Partnership and reasons for cities to remain hopeful in the face of perennial urban challenges. There was also a re-emphasis on social capital, bringing the book launch full circle as Prof Chan made her closing remarks.

Copies of the book “The City Rebooted: Networks, Connectivity and Place Identities in Singapore” can be purchased from the publisher here.