Forming the Future of Urbanity


Penang Island Mayor Dato' Ir. Yew Tung Seang leading council officers to work during a Bike on Friday session.

As mayor of Penang Island, Dato’ Ir. Yew Tung Seang certainly has his hands full, ensuring that municipal services, public facilities and traffic infrastructure on the island are working well.

And on October 14, Yew will need to add another activity to the work list – cycling.

Leading some 200 mayors and city officers from all over Asia and Oceania, Yew will be embarking on a 14km bike ride along the eastern coast of Penang Island. Dubbed “The Cycling Mayors”, the event will kick-off the opening ceremony of the 7th Asia- Pacific Urban Forum (APUF7), which will take place here on October 15-17.

It will be the first APUF to be held after the introduction of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, when the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with 169 associated targets were announced; and the Paris Agreement which focuses on the battle against global warming. “The (Cycling Mayors) event is open to all mayors from our country and other countries, along with their officers. Its purpose is to showcase Penang’s beautiful natural environment and our sustainable urbanisation agenda while promoting green activities such as cycling,” says Yew.

Scheduled for flag-off around 6.30am, the mayors will start their journey at the new, state-of-the-art Batu Maung Waste Transfer Station and cycle to the spiral Jambatan Harapan near Queensbay Mall before heading to the finish line at the scenic Karpal Singh Drive.

“There will be four stop stations where refreshments and cold towels will be provided. We are putting up roofs along sections of the bicycle lane so the covered bicycle lane will be the main showcase of this event,” says Yew, adding that he was confident of completing the course in good time.

“Cycling comes naturally to me as I take part in Bike On Friday (an initiative that encourages people to cycle to work) while on weekends, I join friends to cycle around the island and up Penang Hill. So, this 14km is considered a rather short route for me,” he says.

Towards Sustainable Urbanisation

Launched in 1993 and held every four to five years, APUF aims at gathering urban stakeholders, civil society, academia and policymakers from local and national governments to discuss urbanisation throughout the region.

This seventh edition is themed “Future of Asia and Pacific Cities: Transformative Pathways to Achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It will focus on mobilising partners and pushing action-orientated initiatives throughout the region to accelerate the implementation of sustainable urbanisation.

“The forum is open to all countries within the Asia and Pacific regions. We are looking at participants from countries like China, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Bangladesh, India and many more,” Yew says.


The new Batu Maung Waste Transfer Station will be the starting point for the Cycling Mayors event.

Importantly, APUF7 will host the official launching of the Penang Platform for Sustainable Urbanisation (PPSU). With four areas of focus, PPSU aims at compiling a comprehensive package of services to support transformational changes in participating cities.

Its four main thrusts are promoting policy coherence among national, regional and local authorities; leveraging global knowledge and expertise; facilitating access to catalytic funding though both existing and new innovative financial mechanisms; and establishing knowledge hubs to consolidate data that are then made accessible to its network of cities.

APUF will also serve as a platform to launch the Future of Asia- Pacific Cities Report 2019 (FoAPC), which is produced by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in partnership with the Asian Development Bank, UN-Habitat, the Rockefeller Foundation, Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Commission.

The review, initiated in the middle of last year, is a major policy advocacy report aimed at supporting inclusive and sustainable long-term thinking and decision-making by national and local governments. Its goal is to provide a conceptual framework for solutions to the problem of localising the global agendas of Asia- Pacific cities.1

In particular, it looks at four critical development challenges – natural resource management, climate change, disaster risk and rising inequalities – and explores the implementation of urban solutions across different typologies of cities.

APFU7 in Focus

APFU7 is designed to provide multiple platforms to maximise discussions among the many different stakeholders who are attending the three-day event.

With over 5,000 participants expected, a High-Level Roundtable scheduled for Day One will see interactive dialogues between representatives from the participating Asia Pacific cities. Setting the tone for the whole forum, this session will see participants sharing their visions of the future for their respective cities.

Sessions include “assemblies” (self-organised meetings of stakeholder groups); four Leader’s Dialogues that focus on the topics of urban and territorial planning, urban resilience, data and technologies for smart cities, as well as urban finance; Deep Dive Discussions that represent 90-minute technical discourses; and Urban Innovation Sessions to showcase joint initiatives and projects.

Yew will be presenting Penang Island’s vision of an “Intelligent, Liveable and Happy City”, or ILHAM. “Under ILHAM, we have five main focal points; namely e-governance, mobility, environment, social and economy,” Yew says.

E-governance will utilise big data analysis and digitalisation to increase efficiency, revenue, transparency and improve enforcement while on the environment front, a host of green initiatives are carried out to reach Penang Island’s goal of becoming a low-carbon city.

With regards to mobility, MBPP is looking at encompassing universal design pedestrian walkways for inclusive accessibility as well as promoting cycling, a smart parking system and ridership in central area transit buses. “Under the ‘social’ area, one of our programmes is Repopulating George Town (RePoP-GT) and to do that, we introduced the Backlane Transformation (promoting 9km and 10 acres of green space) and we are working towards providing safe modern amenities and facilities in the public space.

“For ‘economy’, we create spaces such as MakerSpace to nurture future talents and provide infrastructure and facilities to promote STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) and an investment-friendly platform for investors,” Yew says.

APUF7 will also host a City Solutions Pavilion exhibition space where projects and knowledge initiatives are showcased in a free-flow interactive environment. Additionally, the forum will see hour-long Urban Breakfasts aimed at promoting specific knowledge or technical assistance products as well as two-hour evening receptions to launch publications and other resources.

A 60-minute Declare Your Action session will close the forum on Day Three, where commitments made during the forum are highlighted, with follow-up action and implementation initiatives mapped out.

“All sessions will actively promote diversity across speakers and participants from different institutional backgrounds, experiences, Asia-Pacific subregions and genders. The forum is expected to increase concrete commitments and initiatives for the implementation of sustainable urban development at the local, sub-national, national and regional level,” Yew says.

Andrea Filmer is a freelance journalist who has lived in the US and Australia but, for reasons unknown to herself, finds it impossible to call anywhere but Penang home.


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