NB: This speech was delivered at the 3rd private screening of Urbanized on 25 May 2012. The following reproduction is abridged.
On behalf of Penang Institute, I welcome all of you to this private screening of the documentary “Urbanized” by Gary Hustwit.
This documentary is an important film that is especially relevant to local decision-makers such as yourselves. It highlights the many serious challenges that face an increasingly urban world and shows how some cities have adopted creative, but not necessarily expensive, means to overcome them.
With an ever-expanding urban population and greater competition for declining resources, it is inevitable that we will face issues such as increasing cost of energy and climate change. In light of this, we must be able to keep up with the pace, and this may require changing the way we traditionally plan, build and manage our cities.
Today, the challenge is about sustainability and minimising energy cost. It is about building environmentally-friendly cities with environmentally-friendly practices. We have to start thinking green. As the mayor of Rio de Janeiro says, if there are no open spaces, go in and open the spaces.
Cities of the future must also be able to deal with mobility, which is the flow of people, goods, energy, information and services. A city that flows smoothly is an efficient city. An efficient city in turn is an eco-friendly one.
We must also think about social inclusivity, and that means taking care of the underclasses and the urban poor. Access to affordable housing, education, medical services and public transport are integral for a city that wishes to take care of its people.
Finally, the key to achieving a sustainable, efficient and socially-inclusive city is to harness and integrate technology with creativity. Cities are centres of innovation, and human talent is its key resource. A city is a living ecosystem – every part of it, whether man or machine, must not only function but be able to complement each other.
Penang aspires to be an international and intelligent city of the future. We are currently Malaysia’s most liveable city. But that merely means we are better than KL, Ipoh and JB. If we truly want to be a habitat of choice, we need to realise that the real competition is between cities in a regional and international context. We have to start benchmarking ourselves against Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and even as far as Vancouver and Curitiba. The wonderful thing about this new globalised and urbanised world is that we are now able to easily learn from the different experiences everywhere.
Therefore, it is my hope that the following film will inspire ideas on how we go about planning together, to make Penang not only the most sustainable and liveable city in Malaysia and the region, but also to achieve our collective goal of becoming an international and intelligent city of the future.