Singapore Debate Abridged Transcript
The event begins with opening statements from moderators Andrew Stevens of CNN and Michael Elliott of TIME magazine.
Andrew Stevens: "It's quite nice for me personally to be involved in Principal Voices, which is all about the longer term view, the bigger issues, the big issues, the issues that don't necessarily make it onto the front page every day, but they are critical issues not just to the people who have been invited here today but really, quite honestly to humanity at large, and Principal Voices gives us a platform to explore some of these critical issues and try if we can- and it's a hackneyed phrase - to make a difference somewhere.
"We've gone out to what we believe are some of the foremost thinkers in their various disciplines around the world and we've asked them to say what they think are the major issues confronting us at this stage, at this time, and what sort of solutions we should be looking at to deal with these issues. Now obviously there are a huge amount of pressing issues facing this planet and what PV has done is to break it down into four topics which will be discussed over three continents at four round tables over the next few months. Those topics are: one, does economic growth necessarily lead to higher living standards in the developing world? Two: does business or business innovation actually help the wider society or community? Three: Can a transportation society also be an environmentally sound society, or are they just mutually exclusive? The topic that we are going to be dealing with here today, the fourth topic for the round tables, is: Does increased urbanization have to lead to a deteriorating environment? As cities grow does it - and cities are growing rapidly, particularly in this part of the world - does it necessarily mean that there will be degradation of the environment and a widening of the rich and poor, indeed an increase in the numbers of poverty."
Michael Elliott: "One of the things we're trying to do in these sessions is to connect the global to the particular, the global to the local. To think of big global themes like how mankind interacts with the environment and to bring it down to specific concerns that we have in particular localities. It is particularly appropriate in Asia and in this great city to think of the urban environment because as Andrew said Asia is becoming a rapidly urbanized society and some cities have done better than others in dealing with the stresses and strains that urbanization brings with it, and I think it would be a relatively uncontroversial comment to say that Singapore has done better than most."
Mr. Lee Tzu Yang, Chairman of Shell Singapore introduces the principal voices.
Lee Tzu Yang: "Welcome to the first Principal Voices event. Shell is very pleased indeed to be associated with TIME, Fortune and CNN to bring this event to you. Principal Voices is about airing the views of some of the world's leading experts on issues that really matter: the environment, sustainable transport, business innovation and the economy.
"Today we are gathered in Singapore to talk about the environment. The way in which our urban environments develop is not only a concern for town planners. The anticipated growth of mega-cities in this region and in the world is a global challenge facing us all. With its astonishing growth in the last decades Singapore is a relevant location for this discussion to take place.
"We are proud to have with us today four of the most prominent voices for urban development and the environment in Singapore and beyond: Ashok Khosla, Howard Shaw, Simon Tay and Cino Zucchi. These speakers will not only be taking your questions, but also addressing the concerns of hundreds of individuals around the world who have been contributing their questions and comments through the PV website since January."
Andrew Stevens invites each of the four Principal Voices - Howard Shaw, Ashok Khosla, Cino Zucchi and Simon Tay - to deliver their thoughts on the topic, and explain where they stand on some of the issues involved.
: "I'd like to quickly start by thanking CNN, TIME, FORTUNE and of course Shell for this opportunity to participate in this round-table discussion. On the subject of urban environmentalism and what our priorities should be I believe much of what I am about to say applies to most cities across Asia and although I am going to cite examples based on Singapore there are certainly a lot of commonalities amongst all cities in the region.
"Why is it that we are now faced with these sprawling and somewhat less sustainable cities? In Singapore, up to about 40 years ago, most of us lived in a kampong. A kampong is not only a village-like community, but one that is largely and directly dependent on the land on which it is sited. Living there the sense of connectivity with the environment was strong. The community would value resources, re-use materials, look after the soil. In this kampong model the ecological footprint of the community was relatively small.
"In the 60s Singapore undertook a massive public housing project which today we see as our high rise housing development board flats. Although this was undoubtedly a big success story and a pillar of our national development, it is also true to say that the last two generations have a much lesser sense of connectivity with nature and the environment. Urban environmentalism is something that needs to be injected into our cities to put us back on the path towards sustainability.
"How do we drive urban environmentalism? I very much believe that one of the key foundations is in education. This I consider a major priority. Education should be presented in many forms, and at many stages of our lives. At schools, at home through our parents, through tertiary studies and in the workplace.
"I think definitely another priority lies in harnessing or lobbying for government to support urban environmentalism. For example, in adopting the environmental policies across all government agencies legislation on waste and energy efficiency, active promotion of clean and efficient technologies. Strong political will and a public sector push are especially important in the Asian context and especially in Singapore. This is because traditionally we adopt very much the top-down approach. I believe that being educated, and aware of the need to practice environmentalism is not enough. Governments need to provide the initial impetus to get the ball rolling in the right direction through legislation or incentive plans. Although our government has actively reached out to involve people and private sector organizations in environmental projects uptake is seen only as a very small proportion of the whole, and mainly by the multi-national community. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that traditionally Singaporeans look to the top for directives. I think somehow this current needs to see some shifts in the opposite direction.
"I think that to make urban environmentalism a successful journey we need to open ourselves more to learning from others, especially for example the Japanese and European nations. After all the environmental challenges that we face are the same on a city to city level; problems such as dealing with waste, energy and urban pollution - there are potentially a lot of best practices that we can bring into Asian cities."
: "The central issue that we came to the conclusion 20 years ago that needs to be dealt with is the creation of jobs. A particular kind of jobs - we call them sustainable livelihoods; jobs are for the rich, livelihoods are for the poor. Sustainable livelihoods are jobs that create goods and services, that meet people's basic needs; they don't destroy and indeed in the case of India and many developing countries they should regenerate the environment; they basically are a terrific way to empower people, particularly women.
"For us sustainable livelihoods is the key to sustainable development, and as such a large part of what I am going to talk about is how do you make our cities and out hinterlands do that, to create these jobs. I should say that I believe very firmly that both the causes and the potential solutions to the problems of poverty in the Third World lie within the Third World. If we are poor it is because we didn't get our act together. And if we continue to be poor it is because we didn't get around to designing the right solutions.
"I think the dichotomy between urban and rural is a bit misleading from my own experience. The two are so inextricably linked together. The growth of our cities - a large part of that is influx of people who are either running away from joblessness or displacement. In my country alone almost 1 million people a year get displaced by the construction of dams and roads and industries. Eco-refugees who end up in the slums of our cities.
"Roughly half the people of Asia will within our lifetimes - within the lifetimes of the people in this room - be living in cities, and more than half of those will be living in slums. Now that's not a very pretty picture. When you live in a city like this where there aren't any of these slums, it's hard to realise what it's like for the rest of the world. And let me tell you it's pretty bad. If we are going to deal with these problems and re-orient the trajectory by which our societies are going to improve then we have to understand why do people come to the city, and figure out ways in which to provide those elements that drive them to the city either where they were originally, or else when they arrive in the city. Big mega cities in poor countries can't do that. They just cannot put together the kind of resources that are needed in order to do that. A large part of this needs long-term thinking, which our political systems can't handle.
"In the Third World we don't tend to think systemically, we don't think long term. We're not able, basically, to forget the mess that we are in to be able to try and avoid the bigger mess that we're heading for. In the case of cities my answer is very simple - the more you spend on existing cities the more the migration into those cities will be. You are essentially making them more attractive and the environmentalists have a name for it - the rebound effect: the more you make a city attractive the more it is going to become unattractive because it is going to have more and more pressure.
"It seems to me that the biggest problem of a city is that when you come in too late it becomes too expensive to put in decent roads, put in decent utility networks, to put in gas lines or electricity lines or water lines or sewage systems, so you don't do it. If you want to separate your sewage from your storm-water drains how do you do that in a city that's been there for hundreds of years?
"I believe the solutions are quite simple, but they are inconvenient because they don't have the kind of political payoffs or intellectual rewards that re-acting to immediate emergencies have.
"What I essentially would like to leave on the table is that we really do have to think about what the actions of each of us is doing to this planet in terms of the whole. I think we can live very differently and live more fulfilling lives. It doesn't mean that we have to define ourselves by what we have rather than by what we are. It is possible to think of a way of life that basically gives us satisfaction, possibly of a much higher kind than we have today, with much less use of materials.
"We are going to have to change our technologies, we are going to have to change some of our value systems, and it seems to me that the city's problem is embedded in a much bigger problem which has to be dealt with, and that is our pattern of development.
"The future of the planet lies in having decent liveable cities. There's no question about that. But they're not going to be liveable unless we design them right now."
: "Since its beginning the metropolis generated within us an ambivalent feeling. In a way we are attracted by its glamour, the freedom, the occasion of work. But also we were frightened by it - the generation of noise, loneliness, crime, poverty, pollution and so on. We are building a metropolis every day, but we have a feeling a little bit like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park - an entertainment or a theme part escaping our control. Something we pursued that is becoming an ecological catastrophe.
"I think that the instruments of traditional European urban design are useless in present cities, in Europe and, of course in Asia. The idea of the metropolis as something uncontrolled is something we all feel. I went back to Chrles Baudelaire who was a poet, he wrote 'The Flowers of Evil.' And in 1846 he wrote: ' The vertigo felt in large cities is analogous to the one feel in the midst of nature - pleasures of chaos and immensity.
"In the architecture of the European world there is a long debate about should we let the city sprawl out in a sort of a suburban endless model and find is compatibility with agricultural land and so on, or should we build up. This problem of packing up or spreading out is a very complex one.
"I think a lot of modern architects, understanding that we can't control the city anymore in a unitarian way, they've sort of flipped the problem around and have started to praise chaos. In a cynical way to sort of say 'OK, chaos is all right.
"Statistics tell us that the megalopolis is unstoppable. I think we have to start from that. And it is of course its social and ecological problems should be dealt with before the aesthetical ones. But in this scenario I would say that we should go away from this sort of utopias of the last century.......you can't deal with the big cities any more in a utilitarian way. I would rather propose a gardeners approach. I think that the natural obsolescence of the city can leave part that we can put metamorphosis in. Instead of re-founding the city we should help it metamorphose. In this sense we could think of adding buildings as 'grafting,' like in botanics.
"In this we have to use very diverse instruments. We have all the ways we build cities today - transportation, urban planning, legislation, economy, environmental engineering, landscape design, architecture, lighting design, public art - all the means are there to make a balance and more richly stimulating territory. And I think all of this can only be done by a mix of public and private."
: "I think we should have a nostalgia for the rural. I do think that the present cities need to be transformed. Not simply trimmed but transformed: in their organization, in the kind of lifestyle they represent. I think the idea of mid-sized cities triangulated around each other is a very important one to think about.
"While we live in a city, something in us reacts to the city and hankers for nature. We can see this right throughout history. In Singapore we have started to long for nature, for a better environment.
"The other point I want to debate with the panellists is actually I want to see not just the challenges and possible threats of cities, but the opportunities. I think that cities are places where we can have access to education, potentially better resources and services, and socially and politically organize ourselves in new ways to escape the hand of tradition and in a way find better ways of life. I think that cities present opportunities for political, social and personal change. I would say that cities in a sense become the crucible of our expectations.
"In the city centre we expect governance and here in Asia I'm afraid that many cities and many states have not delivered. We see appalling facilities, we see injustices, we see corruption, and we see too much of the 'politics of all'. Where elites basically do things to enrich themselves.
"The cities that we have in Asia we are still grappling with the role of markets and the private sector. I mean, there have been some bad stories, but I think that we have to look forward and find that market places, the increase of trade, the increased role of private actors can actually be very important to improving the environment. In a way we have to use these means to grow, to develop in ways that tackle both the poverty issues and tackle the environmental issues at the same time. Oftentimes this is not going to be a matter of cost, but of trying to twin these priorities of environment and development, looking for efficiency. I think markets are going to be better solutions for this than governments. I think the private sector is going to be an important actor in this. Already is an important actor.
"I think that where we are behind in Asia is in expecting corporations to take on a responsibility that has been captured in the term CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility - a rather western term I know, but one that basically represents the accountability of these very large private actors to themselves, their shareholders and their own COs, but also to the communities of which they are a part.
"I think another issue that has been talked about is e consumerism. Whether we can all afford - whether the world can afford - all of us having the American lifestyle, the accoutrements of a consumeristic lifestyle. I think those are open questions. But I am not emphasising the need to trim. I am actually emphasizing the need to transform. That there can be ways to have your cake and eat it too. Ashok mentioned the issue of the second car. I completely agree with him that if the second car is going to be an SUV - Sports Utility Vehicle - driven by one person it is going to be a complete waste of energy and resources. New technologies such as hydrogen cars - these are promises that we need to look towards. By transformation, I think we've got to see the role of planning, which governments have got to do right, but also of technology, which private sectors can deliver rather than simply asking people to tighten their belt.
"The other element that we have not talked about so much is how Asia, this very diverse region that we are talking from, will sit together as a region, and how the region nestles with the broader global community. I think we really need to start thinking about how the cities on the national level, how they tie up with the regional and the international. Take clean air for example. I think there are very good reasons for every city to promise its residents clean air. But in the search for clean air we should look for energy efficiency, for alternative forms of energy, or simply the avoidance of using too much energy, and I think if we do this we will be helping tackle the larger issues of global climate change and the international dimensions of global warming. At the regional level in between the national and the global I think we would take care of issues like the Asian brown cloud, the heavy pollution of China that is lifting and going across the world, or the haze from Indonesian fires. The question is whether Asia is ready for this; Asia, a diverse and often divided region, has no great history of co-operation.
"I think that the challenge facing us in Asia is in a way to lean from some of the mistakes that other regions - Europe, America - have made, are making, as well as some of the important technological and organisational way that are ahead of us, but in the end I would hope that Asia would in a way seek to transform the patterns of development and seek its own models and its own engines for growth.
Andrew Stevens asks Ashok if it is inevitable that there will be pollution and environmental degradation anywhere that economies are transforming from developing to developed.
Ashok Khosla: "I don't think that it is inevitable unless we follow the same model of development. If we are going to make the same things in the same way you are going to have pollution and congestion and crime and alienation and a lot of other things too. My contention is that we don't need to adopt the same things, either as end objectives or as methods to get there. Heavy, material-intensive technologies are not going to work. So it is clearly inevitable if we decide that in catching up we in Asia are going to simply become another America. But if we are going to reach deeper down into our cultural heritage and find that there are other ways to live a fulfilling life........I think new technologies, particularly new communications technologies are making it possible for us to conceive of other ways of doing things.
At this point CNN's Andrew Stevens throws the debate open to the floor.
Woman 1 in audience: "I just wanted to comment on the idea of the city as being liberating. I think in Asia there is a bit of ambivalence about that. Most of the time you look at our urban history, our cities have been either colonial centres of administrative centres. They were hardly liberating experiences and I think the same kind of ambivalence goes into that point that was being made about the voters being in rural areas. So when it comes to budget allocation there is quite a bit of ambiguity about whether they are going to spend it on mega-city problems, or put in on rural irrigation etc. This kind of tussle in politics goes on all the time. So it is a bit less simple when it comes to Asian urbanization."
Man 1 in audience: "I still remember twenty odd years ago as a young man I was shown the model of the future Singapore. And looking back it has been quite an incredible experience to watch that model slowly unfold itself into real buildings and a real nation as we know it today. And the URA - Urban Renewal Authority - are now planning ahead for the next fifteen, twenty years, and we are now seeing the model of the next stage.
"Adding on to where Simon left off, I think here there was a leadership with a dream, and a dream that was quite amazing considering the fact that in the 70s Singapore was quite poor and we couldn't afford to have a city like we have today, but the dream was that we will be one.
"I think that the desire for people to have a better life is a good thing. I mean you can't blame the villager for wanting to advance himself and lead a more comfortable life. I notice the tone of the discussion, it sounds a little bit like we are a bit worried, the world is going to go in a certain way and it is not sustainable and so on and so forth. Yet if we are a little bit more optimistic I think we can have both growth and a better environment. The power of 'And' - do this and that. Growth and a better environment. At the end of the day it is about daring to dream, and having then to have the will power and persistence to push for it and get it done."
Woman 2 in Audience: "I was very interested in what Ashok Khosla said that you cannot look at cities without looking at hinterlands - that they are two sides of a coin and I absolutely agree with him. There seems to be some disagreement amongst the panel as to whether it is mainly the push factor of the pull factor that makes cities grow. I think that in Asian cities it is the push factor rather than the pull factor that is operative. And I would like to say further that I think the push factor is not due to social oppression, although that may be a factor, but I think it is largely a result of environmental degradation. As a result of deforestation, loss of fisheries - it is the loss of sustainable livelihoods in the countryside has resulted, and will result, in further growth of mega-cities in Asia. I would therefore suggest that if we are going to solve any of these problems we have to look for some sort of dynamic relationship between the cities and the hinterland.
Man 2 In Audience: "If you think about what are the proxies for standards of living and development - things like TVs per capita or cars per capita - and this is where I am pointing the accusation at Michael and Andrew - it is magazines such as your which publish these ranking tables using cars per capita as a proxy for standard of living. The challenge to your magazines and also you competitors like the Economist is perhaps to publish and promote some more environmentally responsible indices and have these as things that people then want to chase and look up to, and that could be one way of changing behaviour among the politicians around the world."
Andrew Stevens: "I understand what you are saying and it is always going to be a difficult balance between what people want to read and what they should read, and how we can change those mindsets and speaking from CNN's point of view I would say here that I don't think we have a particularly enviable record in reporting green issues. I think we're slowly getting better."
Michael Elliott: "I actually don't think - if I can be a panellist for a minute - I don't think that the media does create certain basic sets of human wants. I wish I did think it in a way, but I don't think we do. I don't think you need magazines and TV programmes to tell people who live in very small, very cold accommodation, or for that matter very hot accommodation that they would like to live in rather bigger, rather more temperate accommodation.
"I mean you can say that the story of the Asian economic miracle is the transition from houses where there was no climate control to houses with a fan to air conditioning, and I find it very difficult as a westerner who has always lived with that to argue that people's desire for first a fan and then for air conditioning is somehow something that is to be condemned. I think we have to be very, very careful in debates like this of falling into the trap of believing that basic human objectives to make your life and your children's life more comfortable should somehow be condemned."
Lee Tzu Yang: "I think Michael you are being far too modest with what you said about the impact of the media. People do want a better life, but we are all very familiar with the way in which the media is able to channel those aspirations and provide example of what those aspiration might be, and it is precisely because of that that we are so glad that we are working with the media to get these subjects and these issues discussed, because otherwise the only models that are out there are unsustainable ones."
Man 3 in audience: "It seems to me like the discussion today centres around changes in mindsets: governments, individuals, societies and so on. The two questions I have: how do you achieve long term solutions with short term governments? And also how do you achieve the mindsets, and what is the timeframe we have to do this in."
Simon Tay: "Just to answer the question about how you change the mindset - I think you really have to look at the values of the society firstly. Firstly, at what age are we susceptible, and who influences us in developing our mindset and very strategically target these areas when we aim at changing a mindset and I think it takes more than one generation to do so."
Andrew Stevens: "I do want to just want to bring in a couple of questions we've received on the Internet from the Principal Voices.com, which I will address to the panel, and perhaps Howard if you could field this first one. This e-mail from Cornie Huizinga who is with the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities in manila. And she writes: 'Can we realistically expect that Asian cities can get clean air without making substantive changes in the way that the cities are planned and function?'"
Howard Shaw: "I think if you talk about clean air in cities then you are referring mainly to pollution generated from the transport sector - definitely there is a trend in moving personal vehicles and fleets (buses, taxis) towards cleaner fuels. This is being done throughout cities in Asia already. Just looking at Bangkok already quite a significant improvement in air quality since they launched the SkyTrain system. Likewise in other cities the move away from petrol and diesel and towards LPG and CNG is very positive. But I think it is right to say that a lot of this is also a reactive move because when air quality drops below a certain level people are getting sick in larger numbers, especially the young - that is when we have to react, when we are reacting."
Michael Elliott: "I think we have had a terrific afternoon in which lots of ideas have been put on the table and in which those of us who have been listening to our four guests, our experience is genuinely enriched by their insights into a whole range of issues, ranging not just from the urban environment, but taking into account so many other stuff. I've been making notes all afternoon and I'm certainly going to go away and think a lot about many of the things I've heard. In particular I'm going to think about Cino Zucchi's gardener's model of life."
Andrew Stevens thanks the panel and the audience.
Andrew Stevens: "I hope we have enlightened you and I hope we have given you some serious food for thought."