Singapore: A Global City, A Designed City

Elizabeth Smith

Context defines the way cities are planned and formed – it must be adaptive, evolving the with the needs of the people, economy and environment from differing from place to place. As cites are living, breathing organisms (Kallidaikurichi, & Yuen 2014), they thrive not on long term, detailed planning but rather a combination of a long term trajectory and more immediate design responses that adapt and evolve with the ever changing social, economic and environmental climate of the city itself. The planning and treatment of Singapore as an ever evolving metropolis has led to it being known as one of Asia’s most forward thinking cities, however it is feared that gentrification of the city over the last fifty years and the value put on the external image the government wishes to portray has degraded the strong and complex cultural underpinnings that developed the foundation of the city itself.

To cope with Singapore’s rapid economic growth post-independence, the Singapore Master Plan was implemented in 1971, aiming to make the it a “thriving, world-class city” (Chew 2009). This plan was integral in the development of Singapore as a modern metropolis, conceptualising the “entire island as one single planning and functioning entity” (Beng Huat 2011) and thus developing a trajectory for the city over the long term. Liu Thai Ker, who worked with the Singaporean government for urban redevelopment in its earliest stages, stated that Singapore was their “urban laboratory” (World Architecture Festival 2016) –  allowing city planners to experiment and learn the fundamentals of city development through molding Singapore into their own vision of the future.  This constant planning and articulation however raises the question of whether Singapore is a city the responds to the modern needs of its population, or rather, it’s aspiring to respond to a much more postmodern ideology than a modern one.

Figure 1: Singapore’s 2011 Concept Plan (Urban Redevelopment Authority, 2016)

Certainly, from an objective perspective Singapore functions well – it’s the definition of a “liveable city”. Its geographic context has inevitably influenced the way in which the city has been shifted and evolved over time, the city’s success leveraged by the placement of industrial centres, amenities and infrastructure which allowed for strong population growth while retaining the economic benefits of the industrial sector. While it does lack the land resources of other nations, the designed layout of the city-state has allowed for an economy that thrives on the global market, while still being able to retain its own economy through industry as well.

While meticulous city planning has given Singapore the title of being one of the most liveable cities in Asia (Chua 2014), there’s a constant tension due to the gentrification resulting from high economic growth, and the loss of important cultural values and heritage creating a generational divide in the population. If Singapore wishes to cultivate its identity as such a global and liveable metropolis, it must conserve this cultural heritage, Kallidaikurichi, & Yuen (2014) stating that “Cultural heritage conservation can be an effective antidote the increasing ‘globalising sameness’ that is engulfing many cities in Asia.”. Through having a more homogenous relationship between generations, perhaps the city-state would open up a new channel for communication reinvigorate the desire for the younger generation to engage with its rich past. However, the class divide within the state prevents this, with much of the social and economic imbalances being hidden by the “visual homogeneity of the physical environment of public housing estates” (Beng Huat 2011).

While designed to fulfil the aspiration of being a prosperous economic state, Singapore is still a flawed model. The class divide and neglect of the aged perpetuated by the image of Singapore being a “modern metropolis” means that, without intervention, the cultural fabric of the city state will begin to fray. Therefore, the design of the city itself must respond to the social and cultural heritage underpinning its rich multicultural foundations, rather than disregarding it in favour of gentrification and economic growth.


Reference List:

Beng Huat C. 2011, ‘Singapore as a Model: Planning Innovation, Knowledge Experts’, in Ong A. & Roy A. (eds), Worlding Cities: Asian Experiments and the Art of Beling Global, Blackwell Publishing Limited, Hoboken, pp. 27-54

Chew, V. 2009, History of Urban Planning in Singapore, National Library Board, Singapore, viewed 20 January 2017 <http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1564_2009-09-08.html>

Chua, G. 2014, Singapore is ‘fourth most liveable city’ in Asia, The Straits Times, viewed 20 January 2017 <http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-is-fourth-most-liveable-city-in-asia>

Kallidaikurichi, S. & Yuen, B. (eds) 2014, Developing Living Cities: From Analysis to Action, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore

Urban Redevelopment Authority 2016, Concept Plan 2011 and Mnd’s Land Use Plan, 21 January 2017 <https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/concept-plan.aspx?p1=View-Concept-Plan&p2=Land-Use-Plan-2013>

World Architecture Festival 2016, WAF Podcast – Liu Thai Ker (Senior Director – RSP)¸ audio podcast, viewed 20 January 2017 <https://soundcloud.com/waf-podcast/waf-podcast-liu-thai-ker-senior-director-rsp>

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