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Singapore Is Shaping the Future of Mobility

Singapore owes much of its economic success to a government that has consistently demonstrated a capacity for long-term vision and decisive action. Ongoing experiments in urban mobility are no exception.

BOSTON – Tiziano Terzani was no fan of Singapore. The Florentine writer and journalist explored every corner of Asia. He had witnessed the fall of Saigon to the People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong, and the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. When he visited Singapore, he concluded that all it had to offer was its airport: “the concentration of everything Singapore has to show: its efficiency, its cleanliness, its order.” Otherwise, the wealthy city-state was nothing more to him than “the largest supermarket of consumer goods, futility, and prissiness in Asia.”

Terzani’s assessment has some truth in it, but it is far from complete. Singapore’s meticulousness is good for a lot more than making the airport run smoothly; it also allows ideas to be transformed into action with astonishing speed. As a result, Singapore has become a living laboratory for urban innovation.

I have seen this process firsthand. In 2013, with the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence approaching, the head of the city’s civil service sought my feedback when considering what historical milestones or experiences should be central to the celebrations. Perhaps, I suggested, Singapore should focus not on the past, but on the future, such as by propelling innovation in a sector in which it has always excelled: mobility.

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