Speech by 2M Desmond Lee at URA-REDAS Spark Challenge 2018 Award Ceremony

Friday, 13 July 2018

I am happy to be here to celebrate the success of the inaugural edition of the URA-REDAS Spark Challenge, and to recognise our winners. In fact, everyone is a winner by taking part and exploring creative ideas to enliven our city.

Role of Urban Innovation in Boosting Liveability and Resilience 

It is quite fitting for us to discuss the topic of urban innovations at this point. Just this week, Singapore hosted the World Cities Summit (WCS). Its theme was about taking on the future through innovation and the spirit of collaboration. Innovation is considered an engine of growth for future economies.  

Innovation can involve technical solutions, social innovation and even business ideas. It can also help our cities be more liveable and resilient in a fast-changing world.

During the World Cities Summit, there was a session specifically for start-ups to pitch their innovative solutions to panellists. This reminds me of the SPARK Challenge where members of the public present their ideas on how to address an urban challenge that they encounter day-to-day, and to improve the liveability of their urban environment. This has a precedent in other ground-up efforts in cities around the world, such as Amsterdam and Sydney, where citizens are given the opportunity and have introduced creative ideas of their own to increase the liveability of their cities. It is not just a case where municipal authorities or governments perceive the challenge, and impose the solution – which may or may not work. We should let the citizens who encounter it day to day tell us the challenges they face and offer us a solution, which are more pragmatic, practical, and which meets their needs.

For instance, in Sydney, one citizen of the city came up with bins that incentivise people to throw their rubbish inside. Motion detectors sense when rubbish is thrown inside, and light up the bin with attractive patterns. This is a practical, artistic design which is highly interactive, allowing us to enliven the space.

What is quite unique about this platform is that, unlike other cities where citizens may have to go through a lot of red tape to get their innovations into the public, our REDAS developers have stepped forward to volunteer their shopping malls – which Singaporeans are fond of and used to – as ‘living laboratories’ for our SPARK prototypes to be tested.

In a world that is fast-changing, these kinds of platforms that allow members of the public to prototype and test their ideas, can allow more people-centred solutions to urban challenges to appear. If people like it, we will then see it on social media, and we will know that this is something that resonates with people and is worth proliferating and spreading, and these kinds of prototypes then have scalability. 

In testing these solutions for liveability, these ground-up solutions by private stakeholders, the community and the wider public will create more vibrant public spaces for all of us to enjoy.

Co-creating Innovative Solutions with the Community and Stakeholders

The Spark Challenge is a special collaboration between the URA and the Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (REDAS) to give Singaporeans a platform to propose and test innovative urban solutions – not necessarily big solutions, but small, everyday ones that mean something to all of us

The two organisations invited people to co-create innovative solutions on how we can improve our urban environment to make it more enjoyable and liveable for everyone. It addresses urban challenges in our cities. This Spark Challenge also affirms the commitment of REDAS, URA, and government authorities to continue our partnership over the last 50 years .

For this inaugural edition of the Spark Challenge, I am happy to hear that participants from all walks of life contributed their heart and soul in preparing their entries.

This included schools and tertiary institutions, architects, engineers, and home-makers, among others.

The challenge extended for this edition was how to improve our health and wellness within the urban environment. 

This was also an exciting opportunity for participants to build and test their prototypes in shopping malls and to see first-hand the reactions of people to their projects.

We shortlisted several of these entries, and they were placed at six shopping centres for all of us to interact and enjoy. A vote was done after two weeks and the votes are computed together with the scores of a panel of eminent judges to decide the winner. 

These exhibits were very well-visited by members of the public and are also here today at Orchard Central. I would like to thank our hosts for allowing us to visit and to use this space. I certainly enjoyed interacting with each of these spaces. 
One of these projects, Take – 5! Stones, is a play on the expression to ‘take five’ – meaning to take a break, I understand from the designers – and is inspired by the traditional game of Five Stones.

I am encouraged to see that we are infusing our childhood memories and heritage into some of these solutions. 

Another project, Peace and Power by Standcraft, entices people to rest on specially designed seats by allowing people to charge their electronic devices wirelessly. I suspect there will be a long queue as people will be queueing up to charge their phones while sitting down to have a chat with their friends.

As more persons sit on these seats, it will be illuminated, creating an interactivity both with the partners you sit with, and also the environment that lights up the space.

I also enjoyed the ‘Buddy’ project – through which we can punch the punching bag, and a positive message comes out. Members of the public can contribute their frustration and in return, something positive comes out to brighten up their day.

Looking at all these projects, I can see a lot of thought, heart, energy and inspiration went into these themes. 

The teams addressed it in different ways but always with an element of fun, heritage, and interactivity. These will draw the community together. 

I am happy to see that the teams not only conceptualised and designed it, but executed it themselves, and presented it for all of us to enjoy. 

I would like to thank all the teams – not just the finalists, but the many teams that took the effort – for being urban winners, as all of you took ownership of your own challenges and spaces, allowing us to see the kinds of ideas and thoughts that Singaporeans want to see in their spaces. I hope that you will continue on this effort.


I would like to thank our friends from REDAS for your continued support in creating a vibrant built environment for Singaporeans. I hope this partnership will continue for many years to come. 

I look forward to see more creative ideas at our next edition of the Spark Challenge in 2019, which will tie in with the commemoration of Singapore’s bicentennial celebrations. 

I thank all of you, and have a very good evening.

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