Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father, is on life support

Image: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Image

Few individuals can claim to have had such an impact on the urban world as Lee Kuan Yew, the politician who oversaw Singapore's development for more than half a century. Elected as the city-state’s first prime minister in 1959, he held the office until 1990. Even after that he remained in the Cabinet for another 21 years, first as “senior minister”, then as “minister mentor”.

Lee remained an MP even after that – but old age has begun to take its toll, and on 5 February the 91 year old was admitted to hospital. Earlier today, the government released a statement announcing Lee was in intensive care. In a 2013 book, he wrote that he had signed a “do not resuscitate” order, asking doctors not to keep him alive if death seems imminent.

Lee was elected in 1959, aged just 35, as the city-state was breaking from the British Empire. By promoting education, self-reliance, and foreign investment, he set the tone of authoritarian hyper-capitalism which still characterises the city's political culture today.

On a strictly economic level this strategy worked tremendously. Its population boomed, more than tripling from 1.6m in 1959 to 5.2m in 2011, and it’s generally to be found in the top five of most world city rankings. By 2012, the Brookings Institute was reckoning Singapore as the 14th wealthiest city in the world. Ranked as a state, it comes even higher (generally 3rd or 4th), making it richer than any individual western country.

From a western liberal perspective, some of Lee’s record was rather less appealing. This from a 2013 Economist column:

Singapore imposes harsh punishments – including caning and the death penalty – for some crimes, and retains a draconian act allowing detention without trial of those deemed a threat to national security.

Another criticism concerns:

Mr Lee’s habit of celebrating an election victory not with a magnanimous word of consolation to the opposition he had just trounced, but with a lawsuit for defamation, always leading to a legal victory for Mr Lee and sometimes to bankruptcy for the loser.


Nonetheless, Lee Kuan Yew retains a reputation as the founding father of modern Singapore. This banner shows a message to his constituents in Tanjong to celebrate last week's Chinese new year.


Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit citymonitor.ai to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.