URBAN LIFE IN SINGAPORE

Urbanization: urban population: 100 percent of total population (2010): rate of urbanization: 0.9 percent annual rate of change (2010-15 est.).

The founder of colonial Singapore. Sir Thomas Raffles helped plan Singapore. He assigned different ethnic groups to their own enclaves. In the 1960s and 70s the government was intent on raising a modern city and many old neighborhoods and kampongs (traditional Malay fishing villages) were cleared away to make way for modern buildings. With many of basic needs for its citizens met and the economy booming, an emphasis was placed on historic preservation and developing the city in a tasteful way.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is in charge of planning on Singapore. It issues periodic new “concept plans” and provided guidelines as to how the city should be developed. It recent years it has suggested building taller buildings and developing underground areas to preserve space, old building and the remaining patches of rain forest, wetlands and mangrove swamps.

Old Rural Life in Singapore, See Kampongs, Malaysia

Singapore’s High Ranking as a Place to Live

Based on it location, work force and immigration policy, Singapore was voted by Fortune magazine as the world's best city to do business ahead of San Francisco, London, New York, Frankfurt, Atlanta, Toronto, Paris and Tokyo. Singapore’s affordable housing, good infrastructure and wide selection of cultural and recreational activities also contributing to Singapore's ranking in the survey.

In 2010, Singapore retained its number one spot as the best place to live for Asian expats followed, a survey by human resources consultancy ECA International showed. AFP reported: “ The survey showed Singapore's top ranking was due largely to its infrastructure, health services, low crime rates and better air quality. Other Asian cities including Hong Kong, Beijing and New Delhi ranked behind Singapore largely because of the poor air quality found in these places, the survey said. "Air pollution remains a significant problem in a number of Asian locations. New Delhi, Beijing and Hong Kong are amongst the worst locations studied in terms of air quality," ECA International said. "Health facility provision is also a problem for many parts of the region," it said.[Source: Agence France Presse, March 25, 2010]

In 2002, expatriates living in Asia have ranked Singapore as offering the best quality of life for the second year running. Thailand was second, followed by China, Malaysia and Taiwan, with Hong Kong falling to a stant sixth, according to the latest survey by the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, which was made available to some local media. The consulting firm surveyed 1000 expatriates in the first two months of this year. [Source: Reuters, March 20, 2002]

But not every survey ranks Singapore as a great place to live. The Ireland- based International Living magazine now ranked Singapore a lowly 70th position among top places to live in.

The common people of Singapore have traditionally dried their clothes on "flagpoles" which stick out from the sides of the houses.

Singapore’s House Plant Rules

Singapore resident Steven Wrage wrote in Atlantic Monthly that police visited his apartment after neighbors turned him in for over watering his houseplant. The police told him, "You are subjecting the neighborhood to the danger od dengue hemorrhagic fever...Standing water is precisely what female mosquitos are searching for."

After he removed the saucers under his plant pots that were collected the incriminating standing water, the police told him, "I'm glad you understand...We all need to work together to do our part to make Singapore safe and secure and healthy for all.’ Heaven forbid if a potted plant falls off a balcony. The Housing Development Board launches a thorough search for the “killer litterbug.”

In 1964, there was a serious dengue fever epidemic .Efforts by the government resulted in there being far fewer victims than there could have bee. Short term efforts included offering assistance to victims and taking measures to prevent the disease. Singapore also embarked on a long-term plan to get rid of dengue-fever- and malaria-carrying mosquitos that included the Destruction of Disease-Bearing Insects Act, which allowed health inspectors to enter a house without a warrant to look for mosquito breeding spots (namely pools of water) and impose stiff fines and prison terms on violators. By the early 1980s, malaria mosquitos had been eradicated enough for the WHO to declare Singapore malaria free.

Rented Lifestyle in Singapore

Cheryl Tan wrote in The Strait Times, “Call it my borrowed life: From cruising around Singapore in a Lamborghini to wearing the latest fashion, to looking great in chic maternity wear to having new toys for your kids, you can rent many things these days. A host of rental services have sprung up offering a variety of goods, and they say business is brisk. This is because Singaporeans are shedding their reluctance to hire items used by someone else. [Source: Cheryl Tan, The Strait Times, November 1, 2009]

One businesswoman who is cashing in on the desire for hire is Catherine Xie, 27, the owner of gown rental service i-dazzle. The original idea for the enterprise when it was set up a year ago was to sell gowns online. But after a year, she ditched her initial business plan when feedback from customers showed that there was a demand for renting gowns. She said: "We received many enquiries for gown rental, as women would wear their gowns only once." So in August this year, she pumped in nearly S$40,000 to set up her brick-and-mortar store at Victoria Street in Bugis. She now has more than 100 dresses for rent.

The shop rents out cocktail dresses from S$35 for three days and evening gowns from S$75 to S$250 for the same period. Dresses are updated every two to three months. Demand for gown rentals is increasing 10 to 20 percent every month and is expected to be even stronger as the year ends, with many companies holding dinners and functions then, she said.

The craze to borrow rather than buy perhaps picked up about a year ago when stores popped up online and around town renting out designer bags, some of which can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars to buy. The fashion pack showed you could still tote a branded bag on a budget. Of all the eight rental shops LifeStyle spoke to, six said that they are seeing an increase in demand of between 5 and 30 percent every month. Deborah Ng, 33, founder of maternity wear rental shop Maternity Exchange, noted a 20 percent year-on-year increase in turnover in her four-year-old business.

Over at Luxe Car Rental, which rents out high performance cars such as Lamborghinis, Porsches and Maseratis, demand peaks at the year-end, a popular time for weddings and other festivities, said sales director Denny Koh.

Customers range from white-collar workers and expats to tourists and local celebrities who are willing to splash out on one of the fast cars, he said. It makes the dream of driving an exorbitantly priced car more affordable for customers with a taste for the high life, he added. Luxe has a fleet of seven cars including Porsches, Maseratis and Bentleys. The most popular cars are its yellow Lamborghini and flaming red Ferrari. The company plans to add more cars to its line-up by early next year due to growing demand. This is despite rental charges ranging from S$788 for a Maserati to S$2,988 for the Ferrari for a day. But it is a price people are willing to pay for a spin in a car that costs at least half a million bucks.

While some rental services give a taste of a dream lifestyle to those who cannot afford it, others help people save money and room space, and also offer them more variety. Mother-of-one Elsie Tan turns to Toys 4 Rent, which loans out toys for babies and tots, whenever she plans playdate parties for her and her friends’ children. The parents pool money to get a huge blow-up castle that their kids bounce around in, and toy cars to ride on. "Kids grow out of toys easily and there’s not enough space in the house to keep such big toys," said the 40-year-old marketing manager who has a four-year-old son. She and her husband and their son live in a three-bedroom condominium apartment in Ang Mo Kio. She also said that such big toys easily cost between S$200 and S$300 and so are too expensive to buy—but are more affordable if rented. "At least my son and his friends can get a chance to play with them for a few hours," she added. Rent That Toy! did not give specific figures but said that demand is growing constantly.

Financial planner Annabella Tan, who used to splurge between S$500 and S$2,000 on Louis Vuitton purses and bags every year, now spends less than S$500 a month, depending on her budget, at website Bag For It to rent different designer bags and jewellery. The 35-year-old, who likes to change her bag every month, said: "I felt I was putting so much money into bags that I was not getting much mileage out of." She also does not like to splurge on jewellery, which she said is hard to maintain. So she rents pieces from Dior and Tiffany & Co from the website www.bagforit.com.sg. The mother of two, who dresses up for special occasions such as brunch parties, said the elaborate and expensive pieces that she rents "helps break the ice" when she meets new female friends.

Singapore Model

The Singapore model has been described as "a state that enshrines order at the expenses of liberty" with a government measures its success on achieving a "gracious" society measured in toilet cleanliness and checking the singing ability of choruses. Even though Singapore is arguably the cleanest, greenest, safest large city in the world even Singaporeans describe it as "sterile" and "a society scrubbed free of litter, poverty crime—and virtually any sign of spontaneous life." Some people dismiss it as "Singabore" or "Asia Lite."

Singaporeans have the second highest per capita income in Asia after Japan but unlike Japanese salarymen, Singapore businessmen don't have to commute hours to work and traffic jams are rare. Even taxi drivers live in large spacious apartments. There are lots of open green spaces and trees. Compared to other Asian cities, Singapore is a paradise with "sprawling gardens, marble shopping malls and efficient transportation system."

Mark Jacobson wrote in National Geographic, Lee Kuan Yew “masterminded the celebrated "Singapore Model," converting a country one-eighth the size of Delaware, with no natural resources and a fractured mix of ethnicities, into "Singapore, Inc." He attracted foreign investment by building communications and transportation infrastructure, made English the official language, created a superefficient government by paying top administrators salaries equal to those in private companies, and cracked down on corruption until it disappeared. The model—a unique mix of economic empowerment and tightly controlled personal liberties—has inspired imitators in China, Russia, and eastern Europe. To lead a society, Lee said "one must understand human nature. I have always thought that humanity was animal-like. The Confucian theory was man could be improved, but I'm not sure he can be. He can be trained, he can be disciplined." In Singapore that has meant lots of rules—prohibiting littering, spitting on sidewalks, failing to flush public toilets—with fines and occasional outing in the newspaper for those who break them. It also meant educating his people—industrious by nature—and converting them from shopkeepers to high-tech workers in a few decades. [Source: Mark Jacobson, National Geographic, January 2010]

Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times: His “Singapore model” included centralized power, clean government and economic liberalism. But it was also criticized as a soft form of authoritarianism, suppressing political opposition, imposing strict limits on free speech and public assembly, and creating a climate of caution and self-censorship. To remove the temptation for corruption, Singapore linked the salaries of ministers, judges and top civil servants to those of leading professionals in the private sector, making them some of the highest-paid government officials in the world. The model has been studied by leaders elsewhere in Asia, including China, and the subject of many academic case studies. The commentator Cherian George described Mr. Lee’s leadership as “a unique combination of charisma and fear.” [Source: Seth Mydans, New York Times, March 22, 2015 */*]

“Mr. Lee promoted the use of English as the language of business and the common tongue among the ethnic groups, while recognizing Malay, Chinese and Tamil as other official languages. With tourists and investors in mind, Singapore sought to become a cultural and recreational hub, with a sprawling performing arts center, museums, galleries, Western and Chinese orchestras and not one but two casinos. */*

Is Singapore a Country or a City?

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “Singapore’s ambition of becoming a global city that attracts the world’s top talents is facing a setback in the face of a strong public backlash against immigration. Whether the policy was poorly implemented or explained, the pursuit of this objective is now clouded by a fog of resentment against foreigners. Transforming the republic into a flourishing cosmopolis has long been the dream of the ageing Lee Kuan Yew, who once said he would like to see it take place before he leaves this world. With many Singaporeans feeling they have lost control of their own destiny, talk of global city and diverse imported talents has all but disappeared. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, March 16, 2013 <<<]

“Some analysts believe that they now understand better why the leaders here have described Singapore as – not a country – but a city. For years, many were baffled why this pouring of cold water on the nation’s status and indirectly the people’s spirit of nationalism. In 2009, Law Minister K. Shanmugam created waves when he told an audience of top lawyers in America: “This is where most people make a mistake ... I have tried to explain that we are different. We are a city. We are not a country,” He was replying a question from a US economist why Singapore had deviated from the democratic norm although it was seen primarily as a country. He later explained: “I made it clear that we are a sovereign state (and) we are a country in the legal sense.” <<<

” The Law Minister was echoing what Lee had said on several occasions. In 2011 the then Minister Mentor said: “We are a nation in the making. Will we make it? “Am I certain we’ll get there? No, I cannot say that. Something can go wrong somewhere and we’ll fall apart.” Assessing Singapore’s chances of becoming a true nation, Lee added: “If you believe it’s a reality, then I think you’re making a mistake.“It’s an aspiration, it’s something we must make into reality probably in another 20, 30, 40, 50 years.” <<<

“Some analysts believe that the pragmatic, economic-minded leadership was preparing to change Singaporean mindsets to submerge their national feelings for a global city. When they made these comments they probably already had in mind two things – a 6.9 million population, half of which being new migrants, the analysts said. One pointed out that global values do often clash with a people’s national identity - which can explain the present immigration dilemma. So with their long-term configuration of a hub economy, calling Singapore a city – not a country – actually spells pragmatism. Trouble is too many Singaporeans may not be buying it. <<<

Where Is Old Singapore?

Tanalee Smith of Associated Press wrote: “Singapore's history dates to 1819, when the British established a trading post at what had been a small fishing community just off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. As the thriving port grew, Chinese, Malays, Indians and other ethnic groups moved in. Each group built its own version of Southeast Asia's shophouses -- narrow buildings mostly with a business on the ground floor and living quarters on one or two upper floors, roofed with clay tiles. Indians kept theirs low and simple; Chinatown incorporated carved woodwork and pastel colors; the Chinese-Malay community added plaster or ceramic tiles. In other parts of the island, Europeans built large, terraced homes with ornate facades, or coastal bungalows that combined Western and local building traditions. [Source: Tanalee Smith, Associated Press, October 29, 2006]

David Lamb wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “The drab, one-story Ford factory has been transformed into a sparkling war gallery and museum, paying tribute to the courage and suffering of the Singaporean people during the Japanese occupation. Changi Airport, built by the Japanese using Allied POWs, still survives too, though not in any form an old veteran would recognize. Changi now handles 35 million passengers a year and has been rated "Best Airport in the World" 19 years in a row by Business Traveller, UK magazine. Search as I might, I couldn't find the ghosts of the old Singapore. The musty romance of the tropics, the restless adventurers stooped with drink and island living, the echoes of Somerset Maugham and the sea captains of Joseph Conrad have slipped away, along with pith helmets and Panama hats. In their place are the trappings of a city that feels as new as Dubai, humming with efficiency and industriousness, living by its wits, knowing well that if it doesn't excel it will be swallowed up by the pack. [Source: David Lamb, Smithsonian magazine, September 2007]

What happened to the old Singapore? "We destroyed a lot of it," says Tommy Koh, chairman of the National Heritage Board and a leading figure in the city's cultural renaissance, "but we realized just in time that we were also destroying our heritage in the process. Entire neighborhoods were knocked down for new development, in Chinatown and other places. For the first two decades of independence, the mind-set of the whole nation was to erase the old and build the new in the pursuit of economic progress. People like me who wanted to save what was historic were brushed off as artsy liberals. But you have to remember that in the 1960s, we were a very poor country."

Urban Renewal Authority

In 1974 the Housing and Development Board's Urban Renewal Department was made a statutory board and named the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Responsible for slum clearance and comprehensive development of the city's Central Area, the authority was to plan, guide, and implement urban renewal. The Urban Renewal Authority drew up long-term land-use plans, which it implemented through its own development projects as well as the Sale of Sites Programme. The latter, a key instrument in the government's comprehensive redevelopment plans, represented a partnership between the public and private sectors. The public sector provided initiative, expertise, and infrastructural services; the private sector contributed financial resources and entrepreneurship to facilitate the completion of projects. Between 1967 and 1983, some 166 parcels of land were turned into 143 projects for residential, office, shopping, hotel, entertainment, and industrial developments. [Source: Library of Congress, 1989]

Tanalee Smith of Associated Press wrote: “The Urban Redevelopment Authority has been encouraging adaptive reuse of the old buildings, and since the early 1980s has approved 6,560 for preservation, many of them in the Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam and Boat Quay neighborhoods. Other preserved and restored buildings include the original Parliament house and a former Roman Catholic boys school turned into the Singapore Art Museum. The Raffles Hotel, opened in 1887 to honor British founder, Sir Stamford Raffles, is a whitewashed, restored reminder of Singapore's colonial period. The URA is now looking at post-World War II structures to protect, based on historical and social significance. Its efforts have been lauded as Southeast Asia's first large-scale urban conservation program, and it was honored in July by the Urban Land Institute, an international nonprofit education and research body. [Source: Tanalee Smith, Associated Press, October 29, 2006 /+/]

“While initially tackling restoration projects on its own -- an approach that some complain resulted in unimaginative, cookie-cutter renovations in Chinatown -- the government now auctions off conservation projects. Developers generally must retain a structure's entire facade. But in some cases, depending on the building and its location, the rules require only the retention of a portion -- usually the front face -- and allow for additions to the back or side. Interiors, however, can be adapted in any way for reuse. /+/

Koh Gui Qing of Reuters wrote: “Razing landmarks to make way for development is common practice in Singapore. Although Singapore has preserved more of its colonial heritage than Hong Kong, critics say that too much has been lost, and that the city-state keeps destroying valuable buildings. The latest example is a plan to raze all but the facade of a 95-year-old Neo-Renaissance-style bungalow in eastern Singapore. The facade and porch will front a new, gleaming condominium -- an awkward mix that has led some to call the proposed block a "Frankenstein building". "I don't know whether sometimes we are modernizing too fast," said Chan Yew Lih, an associate professor from the architecture department at the National University of Singapore. "A building reflects our country's development. By retaining old buildings, you retain the memory of the place." Many have urged the Singapore government to be more conservation conscious. "The sense of home and of belonging grows best from the chemistry of old and new, past and future," Singapore academic and long-time Seletar resident Simon Tay wrote. [Source: Koh Gui Qing, Reuters, July 15, 2007]

Redevelopment in Singapore

In January 2009, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “Now 90 percent of Singapore’s population has been moved into government housing, and many people have moved at least once again as the city continues to change. “The big overhaul began in the early 1960s,” said Rodolph de Koninck, a professor of geography at the University of Montreal and one of the authors of “Singapore: An Atlas of Perpetual Territorial Transformation,” which graphically charts a half-century of change. As the decades passed, a clamorous tropical settlement reinvented itself as a spic-and-span outpost of the developed world. “Everything is up for redevelopment. Even downtown, things that were developed in the 1960s and 1970s are already being torn down,” he said. [Source: Seth Mydans. New York Times, January 3, 2009 *~*]

“Under Singapore law, the government can buy the land at any time, at a designated price. A resident of Singapore’s last kampong told the New York Times, “If there’s a change, I won’t have my friends any more,” she said, but added: “We must not cling on to things. If the government wants to take the land, they will take it.” *~*

“There is no question that Singapore needs the land. Its population, which was 1.6 million in 1960, has grown to 4.8 million living in an area less than 300 square miles, one of the world’s highest population densities. Planners project a growth of nearly 40 percent by midcentury, to 6.5 million. “We will need to optimize land use, whether it is though reclamation, building upwards or using subterranean space,” Minister of National Development Mah Bow Tan said recently, in describing the plans for population growth. *~*

“To make more space, neighborhoods are razed, landmarks are sacrificed and cemeteries — an inefficient use of land — are cleared away, the buried remains cremated and placed in vaults. In its most ambitious development project, Singapore has simply made itself bigger. In 1957 its land area was 224 square miles. Since then vast amounts of landfill, dumped into the sea, have expanded it by more than one-third, to 299 square miles. *~*

Preserving Old Singapore

In October 2006, Tanalee Smith of Associated Press wrote: “It is easy to see Singapore's role as a modern business hub when looking at its skyscraper skyline, homogeneous public housing and resort-style condominiums. But this tiny Southeast Asian nation has a colorful, multicultural past that is still evident in scattered pockets of older districts that escaped redevelopment, and the government is working to ensure that history doesn't disappear. Across the island, dilapidated shophouses have been shored up, window frames repainted in bright yellows, reds, blues and greens, and the insides renovated for modern uses, be it a 7-Eleven store, a photo gallery or a boutique hotel. [Source: Tanalee Smith, Associated Press, October 29, 2006 /+/]

“Colonial bungalows are being adapted into offices or split into upscale apartments. Old schools get face-lifts to house new corporate tenants or a museum. "Conserving older buildings and rehabilitating them for future use is an essential part of what Singapore is. We need to preserve our past," said James Toh of A.C.T. Holdings Pte Ltd., a development company that has won national awards for its conservation work. /+/

"It was exciting to consider ways to energize this old building," architect Tai Lee Siang said of the New Majestic Hotel, a 1928 Chinatown building whose innovative restoration was recognized in September with a national Architectural Heritage award. "It's about finding ways to make the new very new and yet keep the old old." Built as a hotel comprising four shophouses in 1928, and with a restaurant that was popular until the 1970s, the Majestic had declined by the time Loh Lik Peng of KMC Holdings bought it in 2003. /+/

“Following the URA guidelines, the hotel's exterior was restored, down to finding exact matching tiles that were missing from some balconies. But from there, architect Tai and owner Loh had the freedom to be as eclectic as their $1.9-million budget allowed. The original ceiling, with chipped paint and metal fan hooks, remains in the lobby, offering a stark contrast to the wide, natural-lit space with its modern furniture and 1970s-era glass baubles hanging over a spiral staircase. A patio swimming pool includes portholes on the bottom that reflect waves into the hotel dining room below. Some rooms have bathtubs on enclosed balconies, and each room was independently decorated by a local artist in a theme of his choosing, including an all-mirrored room and an aquatic-themed room with a huge goldfish suspended over the bed. "You can put new and old together in very interesting ways," Tai said. /+/

Singapore Raze’s a Third of Its Heritage Bungalows

Koh Gui Qing of Reuters wrote: With their white-washed walls and black-colored timber frames, Singapore's "Black-and-White" bungalows are the most distinctive architectural remnants of the city-state's colonial history. Built mostly between 1890 and 1950, the bungalows have broad verandahs, stuccoed columns, high ceilings, tall shutter windows, and wide, overhanging eaves to keep out the tropical heat. Black and Whites are among the most sought-after housing in Singapore, and soon they will be even harder to get as the government plans to raze up to a third of the 500 to 700 remaining bungalows to make way for an industrial park. [Source: Koh Gui Qing, Reuters, July 15, 2007]

"Singapore has very little to conserve in terms of heritage. It's really unfortunate that they are going to demolish them," said Uma Maheswaran Cheyyar Ramanathan, a visiting fellow at the architecture department at the National University of Singapore. The Urban Redevelopment Authority estimates there are about 500 state-owned Black and Whites; the Singapore Land Authority estimates there are 700. A handful are also privately owned. The grandest Black and Whites are in Singapore's prime districts. With rents of about S$20,000 ($13,000) per month they typically house ambassadors or other highly paid expatriates.

But around Seletar Camp, a former British air base in out-of-the-way northern Singapore, a few hundred Black and White bungalows are occupied mainly by Singaporeans and rented out at about S$3,000 ($2,000) per month. Seletar Camp -- where many streets have London names like Oxford Street and Hyde Park Gate -- is a unique part of Singapore's architectural history and its village-style living provides a rare oasis of tranquillity in the frenetic city-state. But not for much longer. State-owned industrial landlord JTC Corp. plans to knock down 174 of the 378 bungalows around Seletar to make way for an industrial park that will host aerospace design firms.

Seletar residents are bemoaning the imminent loss of their charming houses and spacious gardens amid towering old rain trees, so different from the government-built housing blocks in which more than 80 percent of Singaporeans live. "Singapore is now so crowded, we are not going to get this kind of space anywhere else," said Manonmani James, 85, who has to vacate her bungalow by the end of 2008. Residents say the government plan will destroy the close-knit community in Seletar, where residents leave front gates unlocked and allow their children to roam freely in the overgrown gardens.

But they rule out any protest. "What are you going to do? The government will stamp out the fire before it can even start," one resident told Reuters. Government-owned JTC says the new complex will create 10,000 jobs and expand Singapore's aerospace sector by an estimated S$3.3 billion ($2.2 billion) when it is completed in 2018. "We share the residents' and public's desire to retain as much of the architectural heritage and the environmental charm of Seletar as possible," JTC said in an emailed reply to questions. It added that 204 bungalows would be spared and that "great effort was spent to balance economic and infrastructural space needs with the preservation of the architectural and environmental heritage".

High-Rises to Get Even Higher in Land-Scarce Singapore

About 80 percent of the people in Singapore live in the high-rise apartment buildings. In 2001, Associated Press reported: “Now, its government is aiming even higher. The Urban Redevelopment Authority released a sweeping plan to preserve nature, open spaces and historic buildings by building upward instead of outward as the wealthy island's population grows--- and that means sending the high-rises even higher. "Currently only 35,000 people live above the 20th story," said Caroline Seah, a physical planning executive for the authority. "In the future, more people can get to live on higher floors and enjoy great views." [Source: Associated Press, April 28, 2001 /+/]

“The plan also includes preserving old buildings, patches of jungle and mangrove swamps that were slated for destruction. And it calls for building down as well as up, digging into what the authority's chief executive officer, Tan Kim Siew, called "our big land bank." "The people are willing to tolerate higher density in exchange for more recreational and open space," Tan said. And higher-density housing "will also strengthen community bonds," she added. /+/

“Seah said the new plan calls for quadrupling the number of people living in the central financial and shopping district, which will help "add buzz to the city." Officials said the new plan would also preserve more of Singapore's unique architecture, which includes ornate 19th-century baroque shops built by wealthy Chinese settlers, and European-style mansions built when it was a British colony. /+/

Land-Scarce Singapore Looks Underground for Space

Heather Tan of Associated Press wrote: “Already one of the most densely populated countries in the world, tiny land scarce Singapore is projecting its population to swell by a third over the next two decades. To accommodate the influx, its planners envisage expanding upward, outward and downward. The population target of 6.9 million people, an increase of 1.3 million from the present, is contentious in a country where rapid immigration has already strained services such as public transport and contributed to surging home prices and a widening wealth gap. Adding a new dimension to their complaints is the idea that planners want underground living to leap off their drawing boards and become a solution to overcrowding. [Source: Heather Tan, Associated Press, February 22, 2013 ||||]

“State media is already championing the idea. In September, the Straits Times newspaper characterized underground living as the "next frontier" for Singapore. It said Singaporeans may one day "live, work and play below ground in vast, subterranean caverns that make today's underground malls look like home basements." The Building Construction Authority, which oversees a new agency responsible for surveying underground, said it could become reality by 2050. The public's reaction has included derision and disbelief. "Why pull me down," said Patricia Bian-Hing, a retired 87-year-old businesswoman. "The only time I will go underground peacefully to live will be in my coffin." ||||

“But experts are calling for an open mind about the possibility. "Singaporeans are dismissing this prospect because it is new, not because it is unworkable or implausible," said Jeffrey Chan, an assistant professor of architecture at the National University of Singapore. "Astronauts who live in space stations, despite the abundance of direct sunlight have to live in shade most of the time, and they are only debilitated from the lack of gravity, not light," he said. "Hence, I think if there are any biologically-imposed constraints, psychologically or real, these biological constraints can be overcome through new habits or technologically." ||||

“With about 675 square kilometers (261 square miles) of land, Singapore is only 3.5 times the size of Washington DC and has limited options for increasing its space. Land reclaimed from the sea already accounts for a fifth of its landmass and Singapore's appetite for imported sand for reclamation has caused tensions with neighboring countries concerned about coastal erosion. But its ruling People's Action Party, in power since 1959, sees a bigger population as crucial to its goal of transforming Singapore into what it calls a leading world city. ||||

“The government's new plans call for releasing land for housing and industry by closing golf courses and military training grounds and paving over some of the island's nature reserves. That along with reclamation will free some 5200 hectares (52 square kilometers, 20 square miles) of land to help accommodate an additional 700,000 homes and new shops and factories over the next 20 years. The projected increase in available land lags far behind the planned population increase so projects to put industry and other activities underground are already advancing on several fronts despite the technical challenges and significantly higher costs of subterranean construction. ||||

"Going underground is one option for Singapore as it frees up surface land," said David Tan, assistant chief executive officer of Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore's main development body. The JTC is studying construction of an underground science complex beneath an existing science park that's used by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Projected to cost 50 percent more than a similar facility above ground, it would go down 30 storeys — 80 to 100 meters — and house laboratories, offices and a data center. The corporation has already overseen construction of a massive underground oil bunker in rock caverns that freed up a surface area equivalent to six petrochemical plants. The island also saved 300 hectares of space by putting an ammunition bunker underground. ||||

“A possibility explored for several years is an underground extension of Singapore's Nangyang Technological University after a 1999 study by the government and the university found at least part of the area beneath the campus could be turned into rock caverns. Planners envisage four underground levels that could accommodate lecture theatres, cinemas, libraries, offices, laboratories and car parking. "If we think about it, there are already underground spaces here in Singapore and throughout most major metropolitan regions," said Erik L'Heureux, an architecture professor NUS. "We already have underground train stations and malls, and there are already many buildings here that take advantage of spaces below ground so the real questions are how much time will one spend underground, what goes on there, and how far down from natural light and fresh air." ||||

“For the Singapore for Singaporeans camp, the space squeeze has only highlighted the costs of the government's population and economic policies. Its efforts to attract high-skilled professionals in finance, science and other industries it wants Singapore to be known for has resulted in nature sanctuaries and cemeteries being overrun by golf courses and luxury condominiums. "Ultimately it will be Singaporeans who will suffer," said Rachel Mun, a 33-year old sales assistant. "As it is, Singapore is already bursting with people and things we once depended on like transportation, have become exhausted because of the influx of commuters."||||

Model City Singapore Shows Symptoms of Urban Stress

Philip Lim of AFP wrote: “Flash floods along posh Orchard Road. Packed subway trains. Traffic gridlock in the morning and evening rush hours. Intensifying competition for public flats. What happened to squeaky-clean, smooth-flowing Singapore? Widely acclaimed as one of the world’s most "liveable" cities, Singapore is now experiencing urban growth woes as it moves to expand its population to 6.5 million in 20 years, up 30 percent from the current level of five million. The target was first cited in 2007 as an optimal population size for long-term economic competitiveness, but strains are already beginning to show as more immigrants and guest workers jostle for space with the locals. Not to mention an invasion of tourists, with arrivals surpassing the one million mark in a single month for the first time in July, thanks to two new massive casino resorts that opened a few months ago. [Source: Philip Lim, AFP, August 25, 2010 +++]

"It's crowded, very crowded," commuter Anthony Chua, a 47-year-old accountant, said after getting off a train near the banking district. Despite increased train frequency during peak demand periods, Chua felt trains were more cramped than before. "There's a certain level of frustration but I suppose we learn to accept it," he added. +++

“The government was left red-faced in June and July after an unprecedented three flash floods inundated houses, drowned cars and damaged shops, with insurers estimating 23 million Singapore dollars (17 million US) in claims. The Public Utilities Board attributed the freak floods to regional squalls and clogged drainage, but questions remained over whether Singapore was equipped to handle the side effects of rapid urbanization. The city-state's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, shocked many when he said occasional floods were inevitable in constantly rain-drenched Singapore because it could not afford to convert roads into canals. Insurance companies subsequently said premiums might be raised in flood-prone areas including the shopping belt around Orchard Road. But the floods formed just part of Singaporeans' urban gripes. +++

“Traffic has slowed amid an explosion in car ownership even though Singapore is one of the costliest places in the world to own a vehicle due to high taxes and quotas. As of July, there were 936,311 vehicles plying the roads of Singapore, with cars accounting for 61.5 percent of the total, compared to 755,000 vehicles just five years ago. The Land Transport Authority said daily journeys on private vehicles and public transport were expected to increase by 60 percent from the current 8.9 million to 14.3 million by 2020. +++

“Demand for homes in Singapore's public housing blocks, where 80 percent of the population reside, is also straining supply. National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said there was an "imbalance" in supply and demand in July, with many first-time flat-buyers such as newlywed couples unable to find affordable homes. Resale prices of four- and five-room flats, the most popular among Singaporeans, ranged from 331,500 to 682,500 Singapore dollars (243,190 to 500,773 US) in the second quarter. Foreigners who enjoy permanent residency and are eligible to purchase public housing totalled 533,000 in 2009, a 37.8 percent increase from 2005. +++

“Urban expert Seetharam Kallidaikurichi said Singaporeans should be prepared to pay more for public services if they expect the government to meet their expectations. "It's like you live in a five-star hotel. What happens? You just check in, you get your bed ready, new linen given to you, you come down, breakfast is served for you... (but) you pay for it," said the professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Kallidaikurichi said Singapore was still leagues ahead of many other cities in terms of living conditions, and particularly praised the emphasis on greening the dense landscape. "Many other cities including the big cities in the US and others, they have ended up as concrete jungles because they put so much roads and buildings and so on that they forgot about real life in terms of living," he said. +++

“The Urban Redevelopment Authority, the agency in charge of city planning, said it was devising new methods of maximising Singapore's land space. They include utilising underground space, building new commercial hubs away from the city centre and doubling the train network. "As Singapore is a small city-state with limited land resources, the scarcity of land has been and will continue to be a challenge we face," it said in reply to queries from AFP. "The challenge of balancing growth with liveability is not an easy one, but we are confident that this can be done for Singapore." it said.”

Destruction of Singapore’s Last Kampong

No traditional kampongs (Malay-style villages) are left in Singapore. A kampong is traditional Malay water village, where many homes are built on poles over rivers and waterways. A traditional kampong consists of 20 or 30 thatch- or zinc-roofed wooden huts set on stilts around an estuary or river. The residents are typically fishermen or rice farmers. Many of the fishermen caught fish with traps and dried them. Houses were often set among orchard crops, with rice fields outside the village boundaries. Kampongs typically didn’t have any public buildings other than a small mosque. In the old day they were common in Singapore. They still exist in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei.

In January 2009, Seth Mydans wrote in the New York Times, “It is Singapore’s secret Eden, a miniature village called Kampong Buangkok that is hidden in trees among the massed apartment blocks, where a fresh breeze rustles the coconut palms and tropical birds whoop and whistle. Kampong Buangkok will be demolished and redeveloped. With just 28 houses in an area the size of three football fields, it is Singapore’s last rural hamlet, a forgotten straggler in the rush to modernize this high-rise, high-tech city-state. But apparently not for much longer. Kampong Buangkok is designated by the government for demolition and redevelopment, possibly in the near future. When it is gone, one of the world’s most extreme national makeovers will be complete. [Source: Seth Mydans. New York Times, January 3, 2009 *~*]

“Kampong is a local word for village and also defines a traditional rural way of life that Singapore has left behind. When Sng Mui Hong’s father bought the land in 1956, Kampong Buangkok was a muddy village like hundreds of others around Singapore. No one could have guessed that it would be the last. Under the city’s master plan, at an unannounced date Kampong Buangkok will be “comprehensively developed to provide future housing, schools and other neighborhood facilities,” said Serene Tng of the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Ms. Sng, 55, is now the landowner, wheeling her bicycle among the metal-roofed, one-story homes of her tenants, who are also her friends and pay only nominal rents for their houses. The government provides electricity, running water and trash collection, and once a day a postman comes by on his motorcycle. *~*

“Ms. Sng grew up here, and many of her neighbors were her childhood companions. Few people in Singapore of her generation can say that. Fruits and flowers cluster in the village like endangered species in a vanishing ecosystem. There are tiny guavas and giant papayas, yams and tapioca plants, dill and edible bamboo shoots, bougainvillea and hibiscus. Snakes and lizards scurry through the undergrowth, and tiny fish swim in a tiny stream. *~*

“Through the trees in all directions, the people of Kampong Buangkok can glimpse the government housing blocks that represent their future. Under Singapore law, the government can buy the land at any time, at a designated price, and Ms. Sng has already prepared herself. “If there’s a change, I won’t have my friends any more,” she said, but added: “We must not cling on to things. If the government wants to take the land, they will take it.” *~*

“Few people in Singapore know that one village still survives, hidden in trees 200 yards from a highway. “Even if I want to show my children how I was brought up I can’t show them,” said Ho Why Hong, 50, a taxi driver, as he searched for Kampong Buangkok. “Everything is torn down.” “When we were growing up we didn’t lock our doors,” he said. “That kind of trust we had. Everyone knew each other. Any stranger who came into the kampong, we knew.” In modern Singapore, few neighbors know each other, said Sarimah Cokol, 50, who grew up in Kampong Buangkok and now lives in one of the apartments that people here call pigeonholes. “Open door, close door,” she said in the terse speech of no-nonsense Singapore. “After work, go in. Close door.” *~*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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