ETHOS Issue 19, Jul 2018
For the island city-state of Singapore, city-making has been synonymous with nation-building. Since gaining independence in 1965, we have had to take a whole-systems approach to developing our urban environment. This means being keenly aware of the intricate interdependence and interplay between the various elements that make up society—not just infrastructural and economic demands but also social, political and environmental factors. As a small, vulnerable young nation with no natural resources other than a favourable geographical location, the stakes of our bid at urban reinvention have been nothing less than existential.
Singapore’s developmental achievements have since come to attract global attention. But this is our underlying context. Our urban solutions are the outcome of efforts to address and overcome prevailing, complex constraints through unique approaches that, taken together, work for the benefit of our people and the long term sustainability of our economy, national sovereignty and way of life.
This is why urban developments in Singapore should be understood in light of a comprehensive, national system of planning and governance, in which mindsets, principles and values bear as much weight as technical considerations. For the same reason, integrity—in terms of clean, reliable government as well as congruent effort—is regarded as the basis for effective public policy and action, upon which so much of a city’s functions depend. Characteristically, Singapore’s significant urban projects exhibit a high degree of forward thinking and forward planning—with ambitions to address multiple objectives at once. Business requirements go hand-in-hand with living and leisure needs. Longer term goals are balanced with market dynamism and the flexibility to shift plans as circumstances require.
On a strategic level, our urban plans sustain and advance Singapore’s competitiveness on a global scale in key sectors. At the same time, they also bring in the best the world has to offer, in terms of technology and innovation. These are put in service of a savvy, compact population who have come to expect advanced conveniences and a high quality of life, and who look to the promises of the digital revolution with fluent optimism.
Of course, raising a city and building a nation are about heartware as much as hardware. A new generation of public housing, in which over 80% of Singaporeans live, feature not only hi-tech residential facilities but also attractive amenities meant to encourage active, healthy lifestyles and to bring communities closer together, engendering a sense of neighbourhood pride. Other planning initiatives combine thoughtful town planning, healthcare providers and community networks to ensure that Singapore’s seniors remain vital and socially connected in their later years. In a city that has sometimes been regarded as clinically efficient but sterile, Singapore’s burgeoning arts and heritage scene is being brought to the fore as a way to create distinctive places and foster memories and bonds. As the city and its people mature, so too do the rich possibilities for urban evolution: as people, private and public sectors pool their expertise, aspirations and resources to re-imagine and transform the cityscape.
The world ’s cities face a gamut of unique challenges, and Singapore’s distinctive conditions are perhaps unlike any other. But certain premises are ubiquitous: resources are finite; human needs and aspirations unceasing; change and complexity are constants. In engaging with these universals within Singapore’s unique circumstances, we have found, and continue to find, new ways to tell our own urban story.
I wish you an inspirational read.